Indexed on: 08 Mar '05Published on: 08 Mar '05Published in: Mutation Research - Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis
The constitutive color of our skin plays a dramatic role in our photoprotection from solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) that reaches the Earth and in minimizing DNA damage that gives rise to skin cancer. More than 120 genes have been identified and shown to regulate pigmentation, one of the key genes being melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) that encodes the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), a seven-transmembrane G protein-coupled receptor expressed on the surface of melanocytes. Modulation of MC1R function regulates melanin synthesis by melanocytes qualitatively and quantitatively. The MC1R is regulated by the physiological agonists alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alphaMSH) and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and antagonist agouti signaling protein (ASP). Activation of the MC1R by binding of an agonist stimulates the synthesis of eumelanin primarily via activation of adenylate cyclase. The significance of cutaneous pigmentation lies in the photoprotective effect of melanin, particularly eumelanin, against sun-induced carcinogenesis. Epidermal melanocytes and keratinocytes respond to UVR by increasing their expression of alphaMSH and ACTH, which up-regulate the expression of MC1R, and consequently enhance the response of melanocytes to melanocortins. Constitutive skin pigmentation dramatically affects the incidence of skin cancer. The pigmentary phenotype characterized by red hair, fair complexion, inability to tan and tendency to freckle is an independent risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma. The MC1R gene is highly polymorphic in human populations, and allelic variation at this locus accounts, to a large extent, for the variation in pigmentary phenotypes and skin phototypes (SPT) in humans. Several allelic variants of the MC1R gene are associated with the red hair and fair skin (RHC) phenotype, and carrying one of these variants is thought to diminish the ability of the epidermis to respond to DNA damage elicited by UVR. The MC1R gene is considered a melanoma susceptibility gene, and its significance in determining the risk for skin cancer is of tremendous interest.