Cutaneous photoprotection and melanoma susceptibility: reaching beyond melanin content to the frontiers of DNA repair

Front Biosci. 2006 Sep 1:11:2157-73. doi: 10.2741/1958.


Melanoma is the most devastating form of skin cancer. The steady increase in the incidence of melanoma, its resistance to chemotherapy, together with its high potential to metastasize, have emphasized the importance of its prevention. It is becoming clear that solar ultraviolet radiation is a main culprit in the etiology of melanoma, the same as in basal and squamous cell carcinomas. It is commonly accepted that skin pigmentation and melanin content are principal determinants of the susceptibility to melanoma and other sun-induced skin cancers. Although this is generally true, however, prediction of melanoma risk based solely on pigmentary phenotype is not always precise and fails to identify high-risk individuals with dark skin color. Other important risk factors need to be considered and better defined, particularly DNA repair capacity. Emerging studies have revealed the role of melanoma susceptibility genes in regulating DNA repair, and indicated that melanoma patients have a lower DNA repair capacity than the general population. As the response of human melanocytes to ultraviolet radiation is modulated by an array of paracrine factors, we have focused our investigation on the role of melanocortins and the melanocortin 1 receptor, as well as endothelin-1, in this response. We have discovered novel roles for melanocortins and endothelin-1 as survival factors that rescue human melanocytes from ultraviolet radiation-induced apoptosis, and importantly enhance repair of DNA photoproducts and reduce the release of hydrogen peroxide that can cause oxidative stress. Our findings, together with epidemiological data showing that loss-of-function mutations in the melanocortin-1 receptor gene increase the risk of melanoma, substantiate the role of DNA repair in melanoma genesis, and suggest that responsiveness to melanocortins and endothelin-1 is important for melanoma prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Survival
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA Repair*
  • Endothelin-1 / physiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Melanins / biosynthesis
  • Melanins / physiology*
  • Melanocytes / metabolism
  • Melanoma / etiology*
  • Melanoma / genetics*
  • Melanoma / prevention & control
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1 / genetics
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Skin Pigmentation
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*


  • Endothelin-1
  • Melanins
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1
  • pheomelanin
  • eumelanin