Viruses Could Trigger Early Gray Hair

Melissa Harris et al, PLOS Biology

The grayest mice had their immune systems triggered.

A new UAB study looking at stem cells in mice might have nudged scientists toward a better understanding of one of the often-dreaded realities of aging: gray hair.

The study published last week suggests certain types of infections can start or speed up the hair-graying process in mice. UAB biologists found that triggering some of the animals’ immune systems resulted in a loss or malfunctioning of special stem cells that make melanocytes, which make hair pigment. That loss led to more and earlier graying.

Learning more about how the immune system interacts with melanocyte stem cells could also mean more insight into diseases like melanoma and vitiligo.

It’s unknown whether the findings extend to humans, but the authors think the study could explain why some people go gray early. They also say it might help explain anecdotal stories of hair turning gray after viral infections.