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J Invest Dermatol. 2003 Oct;121(4):853-61.

Epidermal COX-2 induction following ultraviolet irradiation: suggested mechanism for the role of COX-2 inhibition in photoprotection.

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Department of Arthritis and Inflammation Pharmacology, Pharmacia Corporation, St Louis, Missouri, USA.


The cyclooxygenase isoforms, COX-1 and COX-2, are involved in the biosynthesis of prostaglandin E2, a major prostaglandin involved in epidermal homeostasis and repair. Cancer originating in the epidermis can develop when keratinocyte proliferation and apoptosis become dysregulated, resulting in sustained epidermal hyperplasia. COX-2 inhibitors, which demonstrate significant in vivo selectivity relative to COX-1, suppress both ultraviolet-induced epidermal tumor development and progression, suggesting that prostaglandin regulation of keratinocyte biology is involved in the pathogenesis of epidermal neoplasia. In this study, we characterized the expression of COX-1 and COX-2, as well as keratinocyte proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis, following acute ultraviolet irradiation in the hairless SKH-1 mouse. Following acute ultraviolet exposure, COX-2 expression was predominantly induced in the basal keratinocyte layer coincident with an increase in keratinocyte proliferation and apoptosis. The role of COX-2 was further evaluated using a selective COX-2 inhibitor, SC-791, as well as the traditional nonsteroidal COX inhibitor, indomethacin. Following acute ultraviolet irradiation, inhibition of COX-2 with either inhibitor decreased epidermal keratinocyte proliferation. Likewise, keratinocyte apoptosis was increased with COX-2 inhibition, particularly in the proliferating basal keratinocyte layer. There was also a modest inhibition of keratinocyte differentiation. These data suggest that COX-2 expression is probably necessary for keratinocyte survival and proliferation occurring after acute ultraviolet irradiation. We hypothesize that selective COX-2 inhibition, as described herein, may lead to enhanced removal of ultraviolet-damaged keratinocytes, thereby decreasing malignant transformation in the epidermis.

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