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J Biol Chem. 2007 Feb 2;282(5):3241-51. Epub 2006 Nov 27.

Regulation of human melanocortin 1 receptor signaling and trafficking by Thr-308 and Ser-316 and its alteration in variant alleles associated with red hair and skin cancer.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, School of Medicine, University of Murcia, 30100 Espinardo, Spain.


The melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) positively coupled to adenylyl cyclase, is a key regulator of melanocyte proliferation and differentiation and a determinant of pigmentation, skin phototype, and skin cancer risk. MC1R activation stimulates melanogenesis and increases the ratio of black, strongly photoprotective eumelanins to yellowish and poorly photoprotective pheomelanin pigments. Desensitization and internalization are key regulatory mechanisms of GPCR signaling. Agonist-induced desensitization usually depends on phosphorylation by a GPCR kinase (GRK) followed by receptor internalization in endocytic vesicles. We have shown that MC1R desensitization is mediated by two GRKs expressed in melanocytes and melanoma cells, GRK2 and GRK6. Here we show that in contrast with this dual specificity for desensitization, GRK6 but not GRK2 mediated MC1R internalization. Mutagenesis studies suggested that the targets of GRK6 are two residues located in the MC1R cytosolic C terminus, Thr-308 and Ser-316. A T308D/S316D mutant mimicking their phosphorylated state was constitutively desensitized and associated with endosomes, whereas a T308A/S316A mutant was resistant to desensitization and internalization. We studied the desensitization and internalization of three variant MC1R forms associated with red hair and increased skin cancer risk: R151C, R160W, and D294H. These variants showed a less efficient desensitization. Moreover, D294H was resistant to internalization, thus accounting for its abnormally high surface expression. Co-expression of variant and wild type MC1R modified its desensitization and internalization behavior. These data suggest that MC1R might be regulated by novel mechanisms including differential effects of GRKs and altered desensitization rates of certain allelic combinations.

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