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J Cell Physiol. 2008 May;215(2):344-55.

Melanocytes expressing MC1R polymorphisms associated with red hair color have altered MSH-ligand activated pigmentary responses in coculture with keratinocytes.

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  • 1Melanogenix Group, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.


The occurrence of red hair and pale skin in individuals, which is associated with UV-radiation sensitivity and increased skin cancer risk, is mainly due to polymorphisms in the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) expressed in melanocytes. We have established a serum free human melanocyte-keratinocyte coculture system to study the behavior and functional abilities of melanocytes expressing MC1R red hair color (RHC) variants in order to identify differences from their wild type (WT) counterparts. This model revealed the importance of elevated calcium levels in promoting strong melanocyte interaction with the surrounding keratinocytes and resulted in a dendritic melanocyte morphology similar to that in skin. However, the dendricity response following agonist activation of the MC1R receptor by NDP-MSH peptide, was markedly enhanced in WT melanocytes in comparison to RHC strains. Analysis of mRNA expression and protein levels of the major pigmentation markers following NDP-MSH treatment distinguished the enzyme dopachrome tautomerase as preferentially upregulated in cocultures of WT strains, with negligible or a much reduced response in melanocytes with RHC variant alleles. These results highlight the use of the coculture system in determining fundamental differences in the physiology of melanocytes expressing RHC MC1R receptors and those of WT genotype, which are likely to contribute to the increased skin cancer risk for individuals that carry these variants.

(c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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