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Researchers identify genomic variant associated with sun sensitivity, freckles
Date:11/21/2013

Researchers have identified a genomic variant strongly associated with sensitivity to the sun, brown hair, blue eyes and freckles. In the study of Icelanders the researchers uncovered an intricate pathway involving the interspersed DNA sequence, or non-coding region, of a gene that is among a few dozen that are associated with human pigmentation traits. The study by an international team including researchers from the National Institutes of Health was reported in the Nov. 21, 2013, online edition of the journal Cell.

It is more common to find people with ancestors from geographic locations farther from the equator, such as Iceland, who have less pigment in their skin, hair and eyes. People with reduced pigment are more sensitive to the sun, but can more easily draw upon sunlight to generate vitamin D3, a nutrient essential for healthy bones.

The researchers, including scientists from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), a part of NIH, analyzed data from a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of 2,230 Icelanders. A GWAS compares hundreds of thousands of common differences across individuals' DNA to see if any of those variants are associated with a known trait.

"Genes involved in skin pigmentation also have important roles in human health and disease," said NHGRI Scientific Director Dan Kastner, M.D., Ph.D. "This study explains a complex molecular pathway that may also contribute insights into skin diseases, such as melanoma, which is caused by the interaction of genetic susceptibility with environmental factors."

The GWAS led the researchers to focus on the interferon regulatory factor 4 (IRF4) gene, previously associated with immunity. IRF4 makes a protein that spurs production of interferons, proteins that fight off viruses or harmful bacteria. The researchers noted from genomic databases that the IRF4 gene is expressed at high levels only in lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell important in th
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Contact: Raymond MacDougall
macdougallr@mail.nih.gov
301-443-3523
NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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