• By Jeff Olsen

Discovery: Gray Hair Gene Identified

March 2, 2016

a middle-aged couple with gray hair sitting on a couch looking at a computer tablet

A specific gene linked to gray hair has been revealed in a study led by researchers at University College London.

“This is the first time a gene for graying has been identified in humans,” said lead author Dr. Kaustubh Adhikari, a researcher at University College London, in a news release from the college.

According to the release, the gene – IRF4 – already had been known to play a role in hair color, but now it has been associated with the graying of hair. The discovery confirms graying has genetic and environmental components.

In the study, the gene accounted for about 30 percent of hair’s graying, with the remaining 70 percent being due to other factors, such as age, stress and environmental exposures.

The study, published in Nature Communications, analyzed more than 6,000 people to identify new genes associated with hair. Researchers found IRF4 is involved in regulating production and storage of melanin, the pigment that determines hair, skin and eye color.

Hair graying is caused by an absence of melanin in hair. Understanding how IRF4 influences hair graying eventually could lead to new products that help people avoid it from happening in the first place.

“Preventing gray hair is a possibility, and even reversing gray hair might not be impossible," Dr. Adhikari said in a news report.

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