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Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2002 Jun;1(6):365-77.

The sunburn cell revisited: an update on mechanistic aspects.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Dermatology, St John's Institute of Dermatology, KCL, University of London, St Thomas' Hospital, Lambeth Palace Road, London, UK SE1 7EH.


The sunburn cell (SBC), with its pyknotic nucleus and eosinophilic cytoplasm, is characteristic of mammalian epidermis after exposure to UVC and UVB radiation or UVA radiation in the presence of psoralens. SBC may be regarded as an example of apoptosis: controlled individual cell death. Since the discovery of apoptosis over thirty years ago, there has been a considerable increase in the knowledge of mechanisms involved in this process. DNA damage has been shown to be a major determinant of SBC production both in a p53-dependent and -independent manner. Extranuclear events such as activation of membrane bound death receptors also contribute to SBC formation. The development of new technologies and techniques has resulted in a better understanding of the mechanisms and machinery involved in apoptosis, triggered by various stimuli and in different cell types. Of particular importance has been the elucidation of regulatory molecules such as caspases, inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAP) and the role of mitochondria as key to the process of apoptosis and consequent production of SBC. This review attempts to give an update on those mechanisms involved and the occurrence and relevance of SBC in mammalian skin are discussed.

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