Researchers discover why redheads are more prone to melanoma

September 6, 2017
Melanoma in skin biopsy with H&E stain — this case may represent superficial spreading melanoma. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Red-haired people are known for pale skin, freckles, poor tanning ability and unfortunately, an increased risk for developing skin cancer. Research has shown that they have variants in Melanocortin 1 Receptor (MC1R), a protein crucial for pigmentation in humans, but how this translates to increased risk for cancer and whether that risk can be reversed has remained an active area of investigation—until now.

For the first time, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have shown that there is a way to reduce risk in redheads. These findings appear in the journal Nature. Specifically they proved that MC1R, the protein involved in pigmentation, is affected by a special modification process called palmitoylation that is critical for its function. By enhancing palmitoylation in the variant MC1R proteins of redheads cancer risk can be reduced.

Making up one to two percent of the world's population, redheads carry variants of MC1R which are responsible for their characteristic features but also increases risk of skin cancers, the most dangerous of which is , a major public health concern with more than 3 million active cases in 2015. Much work has emphasized prevention by reducing sun exposure, particularly to DNA-damaging UV rays, but redheads bear a higher burden of disease making alternative risk reductions strategies an area of active interest.

"Up until now our understanding of the molecular biology of melanomagenesis (developing melanoma cancer) lacks explanations for how MC1R is affected by UV radiation, why redheads are more prone to melanoma, and whether the activity of red hair color variants could be restored for therapeutic benefit," explained corresponding author Rutao Cui, MD, PhD, professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics and professor of dermatology at BUSM.

In an experimental model, the researchers used a small molecule which could increase palmitoylation of MC1R named palmostatin B, and then exposed the model to UV light. The control group, without palmostatin B treatment, was also exposed to the UV light and showed a significant higher rate of developing melanoma. "These result suggest pharmacological activation of palmitoylation prevents melanoma skin cancer in this particular model," said Cui.

According to the authors this study represents the first comprehensive analysis that stimulating palmitoylation can be used as a strategy to prevent disease. "We hope our study allows for the development of a pharmacological prevention strategy for red-headed people to protect their and let them enjoy the sun like other people.

Explore further: Is there association between MC1R and melanoma risk after controlling for sun?

More information: Shuyang Chen et al. Palmitoylation-dependent activation of MC1R prevents melanomagenesis, Nature (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nature23887

Related Stories

Is there association between MC1R and melanoma risk after controlling for sun?

April 6, 2016
There is a well-described association between UV radiation exposure from the sun and the development of melanoma. The development of melanoma independent of sun exposure has only recently been described in mice.

'Red hair' gene variant may underlie association between melanoma and Parkinson's disease

March 2, 2017
A gene variant that produces red hair and fair skin in humans and in mice, which increases the risk of the dangerous skin cancer melanoma, may also contribute to the known association between melanoma and Parkinson's disease. ...

Study helps explain increased melanoma risk in individuals with red hair

August 22, 2013
A person's skin pigment, which determines hair color and skin tone, is influenced by the melanocortin-1 (MC1R) gene receptor. For the population's one to two percent of redheads, a mutation in MC1R accounts for their red ...

Researchers look to improve detection of skin cancer lacking pigment melanin

August 9, 2017
New findings from an international research team led by University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center scientists may improve detection of skin cancer that lacks any brown or black color.

Red hair gene variation drives up skin cancer mutations

July 12, 2016
For the first time, researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and University of Leeds have proved that gene variants associated with red hair, pale skin and freckles are linked to a higher number of genetic mutations ...

Recommended for you

Lung cancer triggers pulmonary hypertension

November 17, 2017
Shortness of breath and respiratory distress often increase the suffering of advanced-stage lung cancer patients. These symptoms can be triggered by pulmonary hypertension, as scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Heart ...

Researchers discover an Achilles heel in a lethal leukemia

November 16, 2017
Researchers have discovered how a linkage between two proteins in acute myeloid leukemia enables cancer cells to resist chemotherapy and showed that disrupting the linkage could render the cells vulnerable to treatment. St. ...

Computer program finds new uses for old drugs

November 16, 2017
Researchers at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have developed a computer program to find new indications for old drugs. The computer program, called DrugPredict, ...

Pharmacoscopy improves therapy for relapsed blood cancer in a first clinical trial

November 16, 2017
Researchers at CeMM and the Medical University of Vienna presented a preliminary report in The Lancet Hematology on the clinical impact of an integrated ex vivo approach called pharmacoscopy. The procedures measure single-cell ...

Wider sampling of tumor tissues may guide drug choice, improve outcomes

November 15, 2017
A new study focused on describing genetic variations within a primary tumor, differences between the primary and a metastatic branch of that tumor, and additional diversity found in tumor DNA in the blood stream could help ...

A new strategy for prevention of liver cancer development

November 14, 2017
Primary liver cancer is now the second leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide, and its incidences and mortality are increasing rapidly in the United Stated. In late stages of the malignancy, there are no effective ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.