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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Aug 28;104(35):13984-9. Epub 2007 Aug 16.

SOX9 is a key player in ultraviolet B-induced melanocyte differentiation and pigmentation.

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  • 1Pigment Cell Biology Section, Laboratory of Cell Biology, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA.


SOX (SRY type HMG box) proteins are transcription factors that are predominantly known for their roles during development. During melanocyte development from the neural crest, SOX10 regulates microphthalmia-associated transcription factor, which controls a set of genes critical for pigment cell development and pigmentation, including dopachrome tautomerase and tyrosinase. We report here that another SOX factor, SOX9, is expressed by melanocytes in neonatal and adult human skin and is up-regulated by UVB exposure. We demonstrate that this regulation is mediated by cAMP and protein kinase. We also show that agouti signal protein, a secreted factor known to decrease pigmentation, down-regulates SOX9 expression. In adult and neonatal melanocytes, SOX9 regulates microphthalmia-associated transcription factor, dopachrome tautomerase, and tyrosinase promoters, leading to an increase in the expression of these key melanogenic proteins and finally to a stimulation of pigmentation. SOX9 completes the complex and tightly regulated process leading to the production of melanin by acting at a very upstream level. This role of SOX9 in pigmentation emphasizes the poorly understood impact of SOX proteins in adult tissues.

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