Mitigating photosensitivity of erythropoietic protoporphyria patients by an agonistic analog of alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone

Photochem Photobiol. 2009 Nov-Dec;85(6):1434-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-1097.2009.00595.x.


Erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP) is a rare hereditary disorder characterized by dermal accumulation of the photosensitizer protoporphyrin IX. Following sunlight exposure, the resulting photosensitivity is manifested first as pain, later as erythema, edema and dermal lesions. Afamelanotide (Nle(4)-D-Phe(7)-alpha-MSH), a synthetic analog of alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone and agonist of the melanocortin-1-receptor, promotes melanin synthesis, increasing skin pigmentation. This study examines the efficacy of afamelanotide in preventing symptoms in patients with EPP. A sustained-release subcutaneous implant of 20 mg afamelanotide was administered twice, with a 60-day interval to five EPP patients. Therapeutic efficacy was assessed by a photoprovocation test using standardized white light irradiation, melanin density (MD) determination and daily recording of sunlight exposure and symptoms. From Day 30 to Day 120 tolerance to photoprovocation significantly increased compared with baseline (P = 0.007) and skin MD was significantly higher than that recorded at baseline (P = 0.004). Except for two low-grade pain episodes, patients recorded no phototoxic events past Day 4 of treatment. Tolerance to natural sunlight was up to 24 times longer than prior to therapy. The findings demonstrate beneficial effects of afamelanotide in patients with EPP. Due to the limited number of patients enrolled and the design being an open-label study, confirmation by a large-scale trial is required.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Dermatitis, Phototoxic / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections, Subcutaneous
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Protoporphyria, Erythropoietic / drug therapy*
  • Skin Pigmentation / drug effects
  • Young Adult
  • alpha-MSH / agonists
  • alpha-MSH / analogs & derivatives*
  • alpha-MSH / pharmacology
  • alpha-MSH / therapeutic use


  • alpha-MSH
  • afamelanotide