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Adv Exp Med Biol. 2013;961:95-107. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4614-4756-6_9.

NCKX5, a natural regulator of human skin colour variation, regulates the expression of key pigment genes MC1R and alpha-MSH and alters cholesterol homeostasis in normal human melanocytes.

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Unilever R&D, Colworth Science Park, Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire, MK44 1LQ, UK.


Natural human skin colour is determined both by environmental exposure to ultraviolet light and through inherited genetic variation in a very limited number of genes. Variation of a non-synonymous single-nucleotide polymorphism (nsSNP; rs1426654) in the gene (SLC24A5) encoding the NCKX5 protein is associated with differences in constitutive skin colour in South Asians. The nsSNP encodes the substitution of alanine for threonine at residue 111 (A111T) near a transmembrane region required for exchanger activity, a region which is highly conserved across different species and between NCKX family members. We have shown that NCKX5 is located at the trans-Golgi network of melanocytes and functions as a potassium-dependent sodium-calcium exchanger. When heterologously expressed, the 111T variant of NCKX5 shows significantly lower exchanger activity than the A111 variant. We have postulated that lower exchanger activity causes the reduced melanogenesis and lighter skin in Thr111-positive individuals. We used gene expression microarrays with qPCR replication and validation to assess the impact of siRNA-mediated knockdown of SLC24A5 on the transcriptome of cultured normal human melanocytes (NHM). Very few genes associated with melanogenesis were altered at the transcript level except for MC1R, suggesting that SLC24A5 interacts with at least one well-characterized melanogenic signalling pathway. More surprisingly, the expression of a number of cholesterol homeostatic genes was altered after SLC24A5 knockdown, and the total cholesterol content of NHM was increased. Cholesterol has previously been identified as a potential melanogenic regulator, and our data imply that NCKX5 exchanger function influences natural variation in skin pigmentation via a novel, unknown mechanism affecting cellular sterol levels.

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