Scientists from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have found skin cells and two proteins in mice linked to gray hair and going bald in mice, while researching a rare genetic disease involving a specific type of cancer that causes tumors to grow on nerves. If further research discovers that gray hair and baldness in humans is also linked to these skin cells, and the two proteins KROX20 and SCF, scientists might be a step closer to preventing hair from turning gray and people from going bald. The researchers published their study in the online journal Genes & Development on May 2.
Time reported that the researchers found with the mice they were studying, the protein, KROX20, acts like a trigger or switch on certain skin cells, to make them become hair shafts. When KROX20 switches the skin cells and tells them to become hair shafts, that then causes the skin cells to produce a second protein, according to the researchers, called stem cell factor (SCF).
The researchers discovered that these two proteins, KROX20 and SCF, are involved in both gray hair and going bald — at least, when it comes to mice. By deleting the cells responsible for producing KROX20, the researchers found out that mice stopped growing hair and they eventually lost the hair they had, going bald. Also, when the researchers deleted the gene that causes the SCF protein to develop, the hair of the mice turned white.
The study’s lead researcher was Dr. Lu Le, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center where the study took place. Dr. Le said that the original intent of project was to try to better “understand how certain kinds of tumors form.” The study, instead, took the researchers in a different direction, and led them to the discovery of why hair turns gray and what causes baldness in mice.
Dr. Le stated that more research and studies are necessary to determine if the process works the same way when it comes to humans. He and his fellow researchers have said that they will next conduct a study to try to find out if gray hair and going bald in humans is also linked to certain skin cells and the two proteins, KROX20 and SCF.
The development of a topical compound or the delivery of the necessary gene to hair follicles would prove to be a boon, potentially preventing gray hair and going bald from occurring. Men’s Health magazine reported that two-thirds of men who hit 35 have already begun to “experience some degree of hair loss.” Besides baldness affecting a person’s physical appearance, it also adversely affects the self-esteem of 62 percent of men who are experiencing thinning hair and causes feelings of depression in 1 in 5 of the men.
Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have discovered certain skin cells and two proteins in mice that cause them to have gray hair and also to go bald. UPI.com reported that, according to a university press release, if Dr. Le and his colleagues find that holds true with people, they could possibly “create a topical compound” or go right to the root of the problem, and correct the cosmetic problems by delivering “the necessary gene to hair follicles.” They would like to discover if KROX20 and SCF, over time, starts to not work properly in humans, and if that is why “our hair turns gray and we bald.” Dr. Le and the other authors of the study believe that their research could end up providing not only a potential end to gray hair and people going bald as they age, but also “information on aging in general.”
By John Samuels