Genetic variants in pigmentation genes, pigmentary phenotypes, and risk of skin cancer in Caucasians

Int J Cancer. 2009 Aug 15;125(4):909-17. doi: 10.1002/ijc.24327.


Human pigmentation is a polygenic quantitative trait with high heritability. Although a large number of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have been identified in pigmentation genes, very few SNPs have been examined in relation to human pigmentary phenotypes and skin cancer risk. We evaluated the associations between 15 SNPs in 8 candidate pigmentation genes (TYR, TYRP1, OCA2, SLC24A5, SLC45A2, POMC, ASIP and ATRN) and both pigmentary phenotypes (hair color, skin color and tanning ability) and skin cancer risk in a nested case-control study of Caucasians within the Nurses' Health Study (NHS) among 218 melanoma cases, 285 squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) cases, 300 basal cell carcinoma (BCC) cases and 870 common controls. We found that the TYR Arg402Gln variant was significantly associated with skin color (p-value = 7.7 x 10(-4)) and tanning ability (p-value = 7.3 x 10(-4)); the SLC45A2 Phe374Leu variant was significantly associated with hair color (black to blonde) (p-value = 2.4 x 10(-7)), skin color (p-value = 1.1 x 10(-7)) and tanning ability (p-value = 2.5 x 10(-4)). These associations remained significant after controlling for MC1R variants. No significant associations were found between these polymorphisms and the risk of skin cancer. We observed that the TYRP1 rs1408799 and SLC45A2 1721 C>G were associated with melanoma risk (OR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.60-0.98 and OR, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.60-0.95, respectively). The TYR Ser192Tyr was associated with SCC risk (OR, 1.23; 95% CI, 1.00-1.50). The TYR haplotype carrying only the Arg402Gln variant allele was significantly associated with SCC risk (OR, 1.35; 95% CI, 1.04-1.74). The OCA2 Arg419Gln and ASIP g.8818 A>G were associated with BCC risk (OR, 1.50; 95% CI, 1.06-2.13 and OR, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.53-1.00, respectively). The haplotype near ASIP (rs4911414[T] and rs1015362[G]) was significantly associated with fair skin color (OR, 2.28; 95% CI, 1.46-3.57) as well as the risks of melanoma (OR, 1.68; 95% CI, 1.18-2.39) and SCC (OR, 1.54; 95% CI, 1.08-2.19). These associations remained similar after adjusting for pigmentary phenotypes and MC1R variants. The statistical power of our study was modest and additional studies are warranted to confirm the associations observed in the present study. Our study provides evidence for the contribution of pigmentation genetic variants, in addition to the MC1R variants, to variation in human pigmentary phenotypes and possibly the development of skin cancer.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Agouti Signaling Protein / genetics
  • Antiporters / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Hair Color / genetics*
  • Haplotypes / genetics
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / genetics
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics*
  • Nurses
  • Oxidoreductases / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • Proprotein Convertases / genetics
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Skin Pigmentation / genetics*


  • ASIP protein, human
  • ATRN protein, human
  • Agouti Signaling Protein
  • Antiporters
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • OCA2 protein, human
  • SLC24A5 protein, human
  • SLC44A2 protein, human
  • Oxidoreductases
  • TYRP1 protein, human
  • Proprotein Convertases