Islamabad  -For those turning grey too soon, or even losing pigment from their skin, the effects can dent self-confidence in ways that can be life-changing.

But scientists have found that two cell signalling pathways which play a key role in forming skin and hair cells may be at the heart of the problem. Researchers in the US found altering these pathways interfered with the amount of pigment produced in mouse and human cells. 

A study has found that altering interfering with two key cell signalling pathways disrupted the amount of pigment produced in skin and hair cells. Researchers believe that the findings could potentially lead to new drugs for treating skin pigment disorders such as vitiligo and potentially even grey hair (pictured)

The team believes the findings could potentially lead to new drugs for treating skin pigment disorders such as vitiligo and potentially even grey hair.

Scientists at NYU Langone Medical Center studied the pathways in early stage skin and hair cells in mice and humans. They found that control of these cells, known as melanocyte stem cells, is regulated by two key signalling pathways – part of the endothelin receptor type B (EdnrB) and Wnt signalling pathways.

When mice were bred to be deficient in EdnrB their fur was seen to turn grey prematurely, hinting at the pathway’s role in hair and skin pigment.

Scientists found that stimulating one of the pathways, EdnrB, boosted pigment production in in the stem cells, causing ‘hyperpigmentation’. In white mice, this meant wounded skin became dark as it healed, with the heavily pigmented stem cells healing the damage

The team report that the pathway’s involvement in determining hair and fur colour was ‘clearly evident’ in the mice when they were first examined.

Researchers found that two cell signalling pathways play a key role in pigmentation of skin and hair cells.

In experiments with early stage skin and hair cells, called melanocyte stem cells, two pathways controlled the amount of pigment. Boosting one of the pathways, called EdnrB, in mice led to melaocytes which produced up to 15 times more pigment.

This resulted in white mice growing dark skin to repair wounds.

While disrupting a second pathway, Wnt, interfered with the growth and maturation of the stem cells, resulting in mice lacking pigment with a greyish coat. But further experiments, which stimulated the EdnrB pathway in mice, caused the melanocyte stem cells to boost pigment product by 15 times in just two months, resulting in ‘hyperpigmentation’.

They found that in white mice, wounded skin became dark as it healed, as these pigmented stem cells healed the damage.

‘Our study results show that EdnrB signalling plays a critical role in growth and regeneration of certain pigmented skin and hair cells and that this pathway is dependent on a functioning Wnt pathway,’ said Dr Mayumi Ito, a cell biologist at NYU Langone and senior investigator on the study.

Ito and her team found that when they blocked Wnt signalling it stalled the growth of the stem cells and stopped them from maturing into normally functioning melanocytes, even when endothelin proteins were present.

The result was mice with coats lacking pigment, giving them a greyish colour.

According to the Dr Ito, the team plans to further investigate how other cell repair and signalling pathways interact with EdnrB and the melanocyte stem cells.