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J Invest Dermatol. 2001 Nov;117(5):1193-9.

Ultraviolet a radiation suppresses an established immune response: implications for sunscreen design.

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The Department of Immunology, The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


The ultraviolet radiation present in sunlight is the primary cause of nonmelanoma skin cancer and has been implicated in the development of cutaneous malignant melanoma. In addition, ultraviolet is immune suppressive and the suppression induced by ultraviolet radiation has been identified as a risk factor for skin cancer induction. Ultraviolet also suppresses the immune response to infectious agents. In most experimental models, ultraviolet is applied to immunologically naive animals prior to immunization. Of equal concern, however, is the ability of sunlight to suppress established immune reactions, such as the recall reaction in humans, which protects against microbial infections. Here we demonstrate that solar-simulated ultraviolet radiation, applied after immunization, suppresses immunologic memory and the elicitation of delayed-type hypersensitivity. Further, we found that wavelengths in the ultraviolet A region of the solar spectrum were critical for inducing immune suppression. Ultraviolet A (320-400 nm) radiation was as effective as solar-simulated ultraviolet A + B (290-400 nm) in suppressing the elicitation of an established immune response. Irradiation with ultraviolet AI (340-400 nm) had no effect. Supporting a critical role for ultraviolet A in ultraviolet-induced immune suppression was the observation that applying a sunscreen that contained an ultraviolet B only filter had no protective effect, whereas, a sunscreen containing both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B filters totally blocked ultraviolet-induced immune suppression. These data suggest that sunlight may depress the protective effect of prior vaccination. In addition, the observation that ultraviolet A is immunosuppressive indicates the need for ultraviolet A protection when designing sun protection strategies.

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