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Skin 'sees' UV light, starts producing pigment
Date:11/3/2011

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] For most people, tanning seems a simple proposition. A naturally light-skinned person lies in the sun for hours and ends up as bronzed as a Jersey Shore star. To scientists, the reaction of skin to ultraviolet light is more mysterious. A new study demonstrates that skin detects UVA radiation using a light-sensitive receptor previously found only in the eye and that this starts melanin production within a couple of hours. Until now, scientists only knew that melanin production occurred days after UVB radiation had already begun damaging DNA.

"As soon as you step out into the sun, your skin knows that it is exposed to UV radiation," said senior author Elena Oancea, assistant professor of biology in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biotechnology at Brown University. "This is a very fast process, faster than anything that was known before."

Scientists believe that melanin protects the DNA in skin cells against damage from UVB rays by absorbing the incoming radiation. It isn't perfect, which is why people must use sun block. But the new study in the journal Current Biology shows that the body mounts its defense much sooner, well before it becomes apparent in the form of a tan.

In lab experiments with human melanin-producing skin cells called melanocytes, Oancea, graduate student Nadine Wicks, and their team discovered that the cells contain rhodopsin, a photosensitive receptor used by the eye to detect light. Moreover, they traced the steps of how rhodopsin unleashes calcium ion signals that instigate melanin production.

Eyes on the skin

In the team's first experiment, the scientists were looking to see whether UV light instigated a calcium signaling response. They found nothing. But guessing that the skin might sense light like the eyes do, they added retinal, a co-factor of opsin receptors including rhodopsin.

"When we did that, we saw
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Contact: David Orenstein
david_orenstein@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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