Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center accidentally stumbled upon the explanation for baldness and graying hair in mouse models. While studying a rare genetic disease that causes tumors to grow on nerves, they found that a protein called KROX20 switches on skin cells that become a hair shaft, which then causes cells to produce another protein called stem cell factor. In mice, two proteins turned out to be important for baldness and graying. When researchers deleted the cells that produce KROX20, mice stopped growing hair and eventually went bald; when they deleted the SCF gene, the animals’ hair turned white.
With this knowledge, we hope in the future to create a topical compound or to safely deliver the necessary gene to correct these cosmetic problems. UT Southwestern researchers will now try to find out if the KROX20 in cells and the SCF gene stop working properly as people age, leading to the graying and hair thinning seen in older people, as well as in male pattern baldness.
The research also could provide answers to as to why we age in general as hair graying and hair loss are among the first signs of aging.