Health and Medicine

Molecular Signals Discovered That Determine Skin And Hair Colors

hair color

Researchers at the New York University School of Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center have pinpointed molecular signals that are believed to determine both skin and hair colors in mice and humans. This new research shines hope on treatments for skin pigment disorders through targeted drug treatments.

All that is required is to find a way to activate pathways that these molecular signals travel, and then a number of therapies could be administered in order to repigment skin that has been damaged by illnesses such as vitiligo. The same pathways could also be used to change hair color for individuals who may not be able to use regular hair dye, or correct skin discoloration due to scarring.

Experiments were done on both cells of mice and those of humans. During testing, researchers found that skin and hair cells in their early stages were regulated by signal reactions between cells, which are part of the endothelin receptor type B (or EdnrB) and Wnt signal pathways. Past scientific discoveries found that both the EdnrB pathway and endothelin proteins assist in the development of blood vessels and certain aspects of both cell maturation and division. The latest findings that were published in Cell Reports journal on April 28th show evidence that the pathways work with melanocytes, which create pigment for skin and hair colors. This also confirms the prior belief that EdnrB helps to direct melanocyte stem cell reproduction.

Senior investigator and cell biologist Mayumi lto, PhD says the studies show that EdnrB signaling has a very crucial role in both the growth and regeneration of some pigmented hair and skin cells. The pathway works together with the Wnt pathway. Ito goes on to say that during the study; mice that were bred with an EdnrB pathway deficiency went gray much sooner than those with a strong pathway. Co-leading investigator Wendy Lee, PhD says she was able to clearly identify the involvement of the pathways in the mice upon initial observations.

When researchers stimulated the EdnrB pathway there was a 15 times increase in the amount of melanocyte stem cell pigment production over a two month period, something Ito labeled “hyperpigmentation”. The damaged skin of white mice turned dark as it healed. The team discovered that by simply blocking Wnt signaling, stem cell growth was halted and mice ended up with gray fur.

Ito is currently working on finding out how different signaling pathways interact with both EdnrB and melanocyte stem cells. She also plans to focus on how cell repair works with these pathways as well.