Topical drug rescue strategy and skin protection based on the role of Mc1r in UV-induced tanning

Nature. 2006 Sep 21;443(7109):340-4. doi: 10.1038/nature05098.


Ultraviolet-light (UV)-induced tanning is defective in numerous 'fair-skinned' individuals, many of whom contain functional disruption of the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R). Although this suggested a critical role for the MC1R ligand melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH) in this response, a genetically controlled system has been lacking in which to determine the precise role of MSH-MC1R. Here we show that ultraviolet light potently induces expression of MSH in keratinocytes, but fails to stimulate pigmentation in the absence of functional MC1R in red/blonde-haired Mc1r(e/e) mice. However, pigmentation could be rescued by topical application of the cyclic AMP agonist forskolin, without the need for ultraviolet light, demonstrating that the pigmentation machinery is available despite the absence of functional MC1R. This chemically induced pigmentation was protective against ultraviolet-light-induced cutaneous DNA damage and tumorigenesis when tested in the cancer-prone, xeroderma-pigmentosum-complementation-group-C-deficient genetic background. These data emphasize the essential role of intercellular MSH signalling in the tanning response, and suggest a clinical strategy for topical small-molecule manipulation of pigmentation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Animals
  • Colforsin / administration & dosage*
  • Colforsin / pharmacology*
  • Melanins / biosynthesis
  • Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormones / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1 / deficiency
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1 / genetics
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin / radiation effects
  • Skin Diseases / etiology
  • Skin Diseases / pathology
  • Skin Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Skin Pigmentation / drug effects*
  • Skin Pigmentation / physiology
  • Skin Pigmentation / radiation effects*
  • Ultraviolet Rays*


  • Melanins
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1
  • eumelanin
  • Colforsin
  • Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormones