Researchers have found that the ultraviolet B (UVB) exposure damages skin cells’ RNA molecules. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, is part of the genetic machinery of the cell, encoding information to turn genetic instructions in DNA into proteins.
Researchers studied human skin cells and mouse models to show UVB radiation effect on the cells. The cells that were affected by the UVB released the damaged RNA which would provoke the healthy cells to start an inflammatory response to remove sun-damaged cells, which results in the sunburn.
That means a sunburn isn’t all that bad. While it may be painful, it’s a healing process for the immune system to remove sun damaged cells. This research could possibly find a way to help block the inflammatory process and could lead to treatment of medical conditions, such as psoriasis.
Dr. Richard L. Gallo, principal investigator and a professor of medicine at the UCSD School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, said in a statement, “The inflammatory response is important to start the process of healing after cell death. We also believe the inflammatory process may clean up cells with genetic damage before they can become cancer. Of course, this process is imperfect and with more UV exposure, there is more chance of cells becoming cancerous. Genetics is closely linked to the ability to defend against UV damage and develop skin cancers.”
“Diseases like psoriasis are treated by UV light, but a big side effect is that this treatment increases the risk of skin cancer. 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,” Gallo said.
He added, noting that he and his colleagues still are not sure how a person’s gender, skin pigmentation and genetics impact the cell process. “We know in our mouse genetic models that specific genes will change how the mice get sunburn. Humans have similar genes, but it is not known if people have mutations in these genes that affect their sun response.”
The research was published in the July 8, 2012, online publication of Nature Medicine.
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