Friday February 28, 2020

Here’s Why Stress Can Make Your Hair Go Gray

The researchers found that stress causes these nerves to release the chemical norepinephrine, which gets taken up by nearby pigment-regenerating stem cells

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Stress
The research, published in the journal Nature, found that stress activates nerves that are part of the fight-or-flight response, which in turn cause permanent damage to pigment-regenerating stem cells in hair follicles. Pixabay

Those annoying gray hair that tend to crop up with age really are signs of stress, according to a new study.

The research, published in the journal Nature, found that stress activates nerves that are part of the fight-or-flight response, which in turn cause permanent damage to pigment-regenerating stem cells in hair follicles.

“We wanted to understand if this connection is true, and if so, how stress leads to changes in diverse tissues. Hair pigmentation is such an accessible and tractable system to start with — and besides, we were genuinely curious to see if stress indeed leads to hair graying,” said study senior author Ya-Chieh Hsu from Harvard University in the US.

Because stress affects the whole body, researchers first had to narrow down which body system was responsible for connecting stress to hair colour.

The team first hypothesised that stress causes an immune attack on pigment-producing cells. However, when mice lacking immune cells still showed hair graying, researchers turned to the hormone cortisol. But once more, it was a dead end. “Stress always elevates levels of the hormone cortisol in the body, so we thought that cortisol might play a role,” Hsu said.

“But surprisingly, when we removed the adrenal gland from the mice so that they couldn’t produce cortisol-like hormones, their hair still turned gray under stress,” Hsu added. After systematically eliminating different possibilities, researchers honed in on the sympathetic nerve system, which is responsible for the body’s fight-or-flight response.

Sympathetic nerves branch out into each hair follicle on the skin. The researchers found that stress causes these nerves to release the chemical norepinephrine, which gets taken up by nearby pigment-regenerating stem cells. In the hair follicle, certain stem cells act as a reservoir of pigment-producing cells.

When hair regenerates, some of the stem cells convert into pigment-producing cells that colour the hair. Researchers found that the norepinephrine from sympathetic nerves causes the stem cells to activate excessively. The stem cells all convert into pigment-producing cells, prematurely depleting the reservoir.

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Those annoying gray hair that tend to crop up with age really are signs of stress, according to a new study. Pixabay

To connect stress with hair graying, the researchers started with a whole-body response and progressively zoomed into individual organ systems, cell-to-cell interaction and eventually all the way down to molecular dynamics. “We know that peripheral neurons powerfully regulate organ function, blood vessels, and immunity, but less is known about how they regulate stem cells,” said study researcher Isaac Chiu.

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“With this study, we now know that neurons can control stem cells and their function, and can explain how they interact at the cellular and molecular level to link stress with hair graying,” Chiu added. (IANS)

Next Story

This new Defence Tool May Help Fool Hackers

The approach aims to solve a major challenge to using artificial intelligence (AI) for cybersecurity

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Cybersecurity
The approach aims to solve a major challenge to using artificial intelligence (AI) for cybersecurity: a shortage of data needed to train computers to detect intruders. Pixabay

Instead of blocking hackers, the researchers have created a new cybersecurity defence approach, which involves setting traps for hackers.

The method, called DEEP-Dig (DEcEPtion DIGging), ushers intruders into a decoy site so the computer can learn from hackers’ tactics. The information is then used to train the computer to recognise and stop future attacks. DEEP-Dig advances a rapidly growing cybersecurity field known as deception technology, which involves setting traps for hackers.

“There are criminals trying to attack our networks all the time, and normally we view that as a negative thing, instead of blocking them, maybe what we could be doing is viewing these attackers as a source of free labour,” said study researcher Kevin Hamlen from University of Texas in Dallas, US. “They’re providing us data about what malicious attacks look like. It’s a free source of highly prised data,” Hamlen added.

The approach aims to solve a major challenge to using artificial intelligence (AI) for cybersecurity: a shortage of data needed to train computers to detect intruders. The lack of data is due to privacy concerns. Better data will mean better ability to detect attacks, the researchers said.

“We’re using the data from hackers to train the machine to identify an attack, we’re using deception to get better data,” said study researcher Gbadebo Ayoade. Hackers typically begin with their simplest tricks and then use increasingly sophisticated tactics, the researchers said.

But most cyberdefense programmes try to disrupt intruders before anyone can monitor the intruders’ techniques. DEEP-Dig will give researchers a window into hackers’ methods as they enter a decoy site stocked with disinformation.

The decoy site looks legitimate to intruders and attackers will feel they’re successful, said study researcher Latifur Khan. As hackers’ tactics change, DEEP-Dig could help cybersecurity defence systems keep up with their new tricks.

Hackers
Instead of blocking hackers, the researchers have created a new cybersecurity defence approach, which involves setting traps for hackers. Pixabay

According to the researchers, while DEEP-Dig aims to outsmart hackers, it might be possible that hackers could have the last laugh if they realise they have entered a decoy site and try to deceive the programme.

“So far, we’ve found this doesn’t work. When an attacker tries to play along, the defence system just learns how hackers try to hide their tracks, it’s an all-win situation — for us, that is,” Hamlen said.

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The study was presented at the annual Computer Security Applications Conference in December in Puerto Rico. (IANS)