New Research Provides Clues on Why Hair Turns Gray

Released: 14-Jun-2011 11:25 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: NYU Langone Medical Center
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Newswise — A new study by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center has shown that, for the first time, Wnt signaling, already known to control many biological processes, between hair follicles and melanocyte stem cells can dictate hair pigmentation. The study was published in the June 11, 2011 issue of the journal Cell.

The research was led by Mayumi Ito, PhD, assistant professor in the Ronald O. Pereleman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone. “We have known for decades that hair follicle stem cells and pigment-producing melanocycte cells collaborate to produce colored hair, but the underlying reasons were unknown,” said Dr. Ito. “We discovered Wnt signaling is essential for coordinated actions of these two stem cell lineages and critical for hair pigmentation.” The study suggests the manipulation of Wnt signaling may be a novel strategy for targeting pigmentation such as graying hair. The research study also illustrates a model for tissue regeneration.

“The human body has many types of stem cells that have the potential to regenerate other organs,” said Dr. Ito. “The methods behind communication between stem cells of hair and color during hair replacement may give us important clues to regenerate complex organs containing many different types of cells.”

Using genetic mouse models, researchers were able to examine how Wnt signaling pathways enabled both hair follicle stem cells and melanocyte stem cells to work together to generate hair growth and produce hair color. Research also showed the depletion (or inhibition or abnormal) Wnt signaling in hair follicle stem cells not only inhibits hair re-growth but also prevents melanocytes stem cell activation required for producing hair color. The lack of Wnt activation in melanocyte stem cells leads to depigmented or gray hair.

The study raises the possibility that Wnt signaling is a key pathway for the regulation of melanocyte stem cells and shows how melanocyte behavior is associated with hair regeneration. This insight provides further understanding of diseases in which melanocytes are either appropriately lost such as hair graying or undergo uncontrolled cell growth as in melanoma.

About NYU Langone Medical Center:
NYU Langone Medical Center, a world-class, patient-centered, integrated, academic medical center, is one on the nation’s premier centers for excellence in clinical care, biomedical research and medical education. Located in the heart of Manhattan, NYU Langone is composed of three hospitals – Tisch Hospital, its flagship acute care facility; the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, the first rehabilitation hospital in the world; and the Hospital for Joint Diseases, one of only five hospitals in the nations dedicated to orthopaedics and rheumatology – plus the NYU School of Medicine, which since 1841 has trained thousand of physicians and scientists who have helped to share the course of medical history. The medical center’s tri-fold mission to serve, teach and discover is achieved 365 days a year through the seamless integration of a culture devoted to excellence in patient care, education and research. For more information, go to www.NYULMC.org.


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