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Biological Chemistry

First hair-graying gene identified

Discovery has scientists eyeing cosmetic potential

by Elizabeth K. Wilson
March 7, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 10

Credit: Shutterstock
Picture of a man with gray hair.
Credit: Shutterstock

Just when gray hair has become fashionable, scientists are reporting they have identified a gene involved in the hair-graying process (Nat. Commun. 2016, DOI: 10.1038/ncom​ms10815). A team led by Andrés Ruiz-Linares and Kaustubh Adhikari of University College London analyzed the DNA of 6,630 people from Latin America, identifying numerous genes that influence various aspects of human facial and scalp features, including beard and eyebrow thickness and hair curliness. In this study, however, the gene involved in the graying process, known as IRF4, is receiving the most attention. As Ruiz-Linares notes, “Understanding how IRF4 influences hair graying could help the development of new cosmetic applications that change the appearance of hair as it grows in the follicle by slowing or blocking the graying of hair.” Although scientists have known that IRF4 plays a role in regulating the production and storage of the hair, skin, and eye pigment melanin, the researchers say this is the first time it has been associated with the graying of hair.

Speaking of Chemistry delves into how and why aging hair grays in the first place.


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