Study pinpoints sunburn mechanism

July 17, 2012

New research suggests that the biological mechanism of sunburn is a consequence of RNA damage to skin cells.

San Diego - New research suggests that the biological mechanism of sunburn is a consequence of RNA damage to skin cells.

Newswise.com reports that the study’s findings could eventually lead to a way to block the inflammatory process and may have implications for a range of medical conditions and treatments.

Using human skin cells and a mouse model, the researchers found that UVB radiation fractures and tangles elements of non-coding micro-RNA, a type of RNA inside the cell that does not directly make proteins. Irradiated cells release this altered RNA, which starts a process - which is seen and felt as sunburn - that results in an inflammatory response intended to remove sun-damaged cells.

Dr. Gallo said it’s still not known how gender, skin pigmentation and individual genetics may affect the mechanism of sunburn.

“Diseases like psoriasis are treated by UV light, but a big side effect is that this treatment increases the risk of skin cancer,” Newswise.com quotes principal investigator Richard L. Gallo, M.D., University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, as saying. “Our discovery suggests a way to get the beneficial effects of UV therapy without actually exposing our patients to the harmful UV light. Also, some people have excess sensitivity to UV light, patients with lupus, for example. We are exploring if we can help them by blocking the pathway we discovered.”

The study was published online in Nature Medicine.

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