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

In this current study, Wei and Cui wanted to find out how this was happening.

Led by co-first authors, Lixin Wan, PhD, a member of the Wei laboratory at BIDMC and Juxiang Cao, PhD, a member of the Cui lab at BUSM, the scientific team embarked on a series of experiments in both cell cultures and mouse models. Their experiments showed that in normal circumstances, MC1R was binding to PTEN, a well-known tumor suppressor gene. PTEN acts to safeguard against cancer; without PTEN, the end result is elevated signaling in the cancer-causing P13K/Akt pathway.

The team then went on to demonstrate that MC1R-RHC mutations found in red-haired individuals lacked this protective mechanism. "As a result, upon UVB exposure, we saw an increased destruction of PTEN in the mutated pigment cells," says Wei. The team additionally found that in these same MC1R-RHC pigment cells, elevated PI3K/Akt activity was boosting cell proliferation and was synchronizing with another well-known cancer mutation in the BRAF gene (found in nearly 70 percent of human melanomas) to further accelerate cancer development. In support of these results, note Wei and Cui, another research group at Massachusetts General Hospital recently demonstrated that expression of the BRAF gene mutation in the melanocytes of mice carrying a mutated MC1R gene led to a high incidence of invasive melanomas.

"Together, our findings provide a possible molecular mechanism as to why red-haired individuals harboring MC1R mutations are much more susceptible to UV-induced skin damage than individuals with darker skin, resulting in a 10-to100-fold higher frequency of melanoma," says Wei.

The authors note that this newly established link between MC1R and PTEN will be a starting point for future studies, adding that it remains unclear why only MC1R genetic variants linked to the red hair phenotype but not all MC1R variants are unable to bind to PTEN following UV exposure.

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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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