London: In a first, an international team of researchers has identified a gene for greying hair, confirming greying has a genetic component and is not just environmental.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, analysed a population of over 6,000 people with varied ancestry across Latin America to identify new genes associated with hair colour, greying, density and shape.
The gene identified, IRF4, is known to play a role in hair colour but this is the first time it has been associated with the greying of hair.
This gene is involved in regulating production and storage of melanin, the pigment that determines hair, skin and eye colour, according to the study.
Hair greying is caused by an absence of melanin in hair so researchers want to find out IRF4's role in this process. Understanding how IRF4 influences hair greying 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 greying of hair.
"We have found the first genetic association to hair greying, which could provide a good model to understand aspects of the biology of human aging," Andres Ruiz-Linares from the University College London said.
"Understanding the mechanism of the IRF4 greying association could also be relevant for developing ways to delay hair greying," Ruiz-Linares added.
Another gene, PRSS53, which was found to influence hair curliness, was investigated by the University of Bradford's Center for Skin Sciences as part of the study.
The team also found additional genes associated with hair including EDAR for beard thickness and hair shape; FOXL2 for eyebrow thickness and PAX3 for monobrow prevalence.