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Study helps explain increased melanoma risk in individuals with red hair
Date:8/22/2013

BOSTON -- A person's skin pigment, which determines hair color and skin tone, is influenced by the melanocortin-1 (MC1R) gene receptor. For the population's one to two percent of redheads, a mutation in MC1R accounts for their red hair color and typical light skin.

Now researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have discovered that the same MC1R mutation responsible for the red hair phenotype also promotes an important cancer-causing pathway. The new findings, reported on-line today in the journal Molecular Cell, help to explain the molecular mechanisms that underlie redheads' well-known risk of developing melanoma, providing new insights for treating and preventing this dangerous type of skin cancer.

Melanoma is the least common but the most lethal of skin cancers. Accounting for 75 percent of all skin-cancer deaths, melanoma originates in pigment-producing skin cells called melanocytes. Melanoma is believed to be a multi-step process (melanomagenesis) of genetic mutations that increase cell proliferation, cell differentiation and cell death and increase an individual's susceptibility to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Two types of UV radiation UVA and UVB can mutate DNA in skin cells and lead to melanoma.

"In this current study, we have demonstrated that the mutation MC1R-RHC promotes the PI3K/Akt signaling pathway when a red-haired individual is exposed to UV radiation," explains co-senior author Wenyi Wei, PhD, an investigator in the Department of Pathology at BIDMC and Associate Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School. PI3K/Akt is a well-known cancer-causing pathway, implicated in breast cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer.

Previous work by the study's co-senior author Rutao Cui, MD, PhD, a member of the BUSM Department of Dermatology, had demonstrated that MC1R plays a key role in protecting melanocytes from UV-induced DNA damage.
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Contact: Bonnie Prescott
bprescot@bidmc.harvard.edu
617-667-7306
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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