The cure for grey hair and balding may be just around the corner. Scientists have discovered a biological marker called KROX20 linked to grey hair and balding.
The scientists believe their work could be used to find treatments for balding and greying hair in the near future. Their work was published in the latest issue of the journal Genes & Development.
During this study, scientists explored stem cells known as “hair progenitor cells”. They’re the cells responsible for hair growth. These cells are found deep within hair follicles. Two proteins were found to play a crucial role in the activity of these stem cells, including the proteins KROX20 and stem cell factor (SCF).
During research, scientists found that KROX20 became activated in skin cells that became the hair shaft (i.e. the hair progenitor cells). These cells then produced SCF – a compound that’s crucial for hair pigmentation.
Here’s the important part: when the hair progenitor cells had both proteins (KROX20 and SCF), these proteins moved up from the follicle, interacted with the pigment-producing melanocyte cells, and grew into pigmented hairs.
When researchers removed the KROX20 protein from the stem cells, the cells refused to grow any hair – in other words, the mice became bald. When the SCF protein was deleted, the hair turned white.
Researchers believe that, in some aging adults, SCF and KROX20 get turned off naturally. That’s what causes us to go grey, go bald – or both.
A Chance Discovery
Interestingly, researchers in this study weren’t initially trying to cure balding or hair loss. Instead, they were studying a rare genetic disease called neurofibromatosis type 1, which causes tumors to grow on nerves. KROX20 is typically associated with nerve development.
“Although this project was started in an effort to understand how certain kinds of tumors form, we ended up learning why hair turns gray and discovering the identity of the cell that directly gives rise to hair,” said lead researcher Dr. Lu Le, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in a statement. “With this knowledge, we hope in the future to create a topical compound or to safely deliver the necessary gene to hair follicles to correct these cosmetic problems.”
What’s The Next Step With KROX20 & Stem Cell Factor Proteins?
The next step is to turn this research into a usable treatment for greyness and balding. Dr. Le, the lead researcher, explained that their goal is to determine how KROX20 and SCF both stop working properly as people age, including their role in male pattern baldness.
Obviously, we’re a long ways away from a cure for balding and grey hair. However, this research can be used to pave future treatments into the conditions. Stay tuned for more information about KROX20 as research continues!