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J Invest Dermatol. 2003 Jan;120(1):48-55.

Apoptosis regulators and responses in human melanocytic and keratinocytic cells.

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Department of Dermatology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA.


Apoptosis in keratinocytes is required for epidermal turnover, stratum corneum formation, and removal of ultraviolet-damaged premalignant cells. Its role in melanocyte homeostasis and transformation, on the other hand, has not been defined, although apoptosis resistance is a commonly recognized feature of melanoma. We examined the expression of apoptosis regulators in melanocytes, keratinocytes, melanoma, and HaCat cells. Melanocytic cells expressed relatively high levels of Bcl-2, Bcl-X(L), Mcl-1, C-IAP-1, C-IAP-2, XIAP, Livin, and Apaf-1. The only apoptotic regulator that was differentially expressed in melanoma cells and not melanocytes was Survivin, whereas Bax was expressed in melanocytes but not in most melanoma lines. Keratinocytic cells, on the other hand, expressed high levels of FLIP and were relatively deficient in Bcl-2 family proteins. Levels of p53 were highest in HaCat cells and some of the melanoma lines, and barely detectable in melanocytes and keratinocytes. Next, susceptibility of these cells types to apoptosis induced by ultraviolet B, the tyrosine analog 4-tert-butylphenol, and cytotoxic drugs was examined. Melanocytes were relatively resistant to ultraviolet B, whereas keratinocytes were unresponsive to 4-tert-butylphenol. Melanocytes and keratinocytes were generally less susceptible than melanoma lines and HaCat cells to etoposide, cisplatin, and staurosporine. Induction of apoptosis in these cell types was generally associated with decreased levels of Mcl-1, XIAP, and Livin, and increased levels of p53, whereas levels of other apoptotic regulators were unaltered. These results provide insights into the potential roles of apoptosis in the function and transformation of epidermal melanocytes and keratinocytes.

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