Melanocytes play a central role in the response of skin to sunlight exposure. They are directly involved in UV-induced pigmentation as a defense mechanism. However, their alteration can lead to melanoma, a process where the role of sun overexposure is highly probable. The transformation process whereby UV damage may result in melanoma initiation is poorly understood, especially in terms of UV-induced genotoxicity in pigmented cells, where melanin can act either as a sunscreen or as a photosensitizer. The aim of this study was to analyze the behavior of melanocytes from fair skin under irradiation mimicking environmental sunlight in terms of spectral power distribution. To do this, normal human Caucasian melanocytes in culture were exposed to simulated solar UV (SSUV, 300–400 nm). Even at relatively high doses (until 20 min exposure, corresponding to 12 kJ/m2 UV-B and 110 kJ/m2 UV-A), cell death was limited, as shown by cell viability and low occurrence of apoptosis (caspase-3 activation). Moreover, p53 accumulation was three times lower in melanocytes than in unpigmented cells such as fibroblasts after SSUV exposure. However, an important fraction of melanocyte population was arrested in G2–M phase, and this correlated well with a high induction level of the gene GADD45, 4 h after exposure. Among the genes involved in DNA repair, gene XPC was the most inducible because its expression increased more than two-fold 15 h after a 20 min exposure, whereas expression of P48 was only slightly increased. In addition, an early induction of Heme Oxygenase 1 (HO1) gene, a typical response to oxidative stress, was also observed for the first time in melanocytes. Interestingly, this induction remained significant when melanocytes were exposed to UV-A radiation only (320–400 nm), and stimulation of melanogenesis before irradiation further increased HO1 induction. These results were obtained with normal human cells after exposure to SSUV radiation, which mimicked natural sunlight. They provide new data related to gene expression and suggest that melanin in light skin could contribute to sunlight-induced genotoxicity and maybe to melanocyte transformation.
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Vol. 81 • No. 2