Some people have blue skin, but it’s not just a cosmetic difference, according to researchers.
Researchers are now using the genetics of the pigment and its interaction with the skin to understand what makes some people blue and others brown.
“What we’re trying to do here is not only understand how blue people get their blue pigment but also understand why it’s the same color across people,” said University of Toronto associate professor of genetics and biochemistry Dr. Robert F. Pritchard.
“The pigment in blue is in the cells called melanocytes, which are involved in the production of the melanin pigment in the skin,” he said.
“What we want to do is understand the mechanism of how melanin is produced and how the skin responds to that.”
The pigment is produced by melanocytes in the face and under the skin.
“It’s an important molecule in our skin, because the skin’s primary defense against UV radiation is to make our skin white,” said Pritchett.
“So what we’re looking for is how melanocytes respond to this blue pigment and how this response changes in response to the light.”
“When light hits our skin and it causes a change in melanin, it’s called a melanoma,” he explained.
“We’re trying not to use that term, but that’s a very specific type of melanoma.”
In this case, researchers have found melanoma cells in the lab.
“When they’re stimulated, they form a structure called a microtubule, which is a membrane that holds cells together and allows them to grow,” Pritchet said.
“That’s where the melanoma comes from.”
Researchers are now looking at the molecular interactions that occur between melanocytes and the pigment that they produce.
“There’s an interaction between the pigment in our face and the melanocyte cells,” said F. Daniel Hsieh, professor of dermatology at the University of Washington.
“This interaction is what allows the melanocytes to make melanin.”
“The more you’re exposed to blue light, the more melanin you have,” said Hsiehs co-director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“What that means is that, because blue light is damaging to the skin, you’re more likely to develop blue-colored skin.
And that’s the consequence of being exposed to more blue light.”
Researchers believe that these melanoma-related changes in pigment are caused by the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R), which is involved in regulating the expression of genes.
The receptor is also involved in other functions, including the regulation of the blood vessel and the immune system.
“These mutations in MC4R play a role in the development of some diseases, such as macular degeneration,” said Dr. Pregler.
“They’re also involved with certain kinds of cancer, like melanoma, but the melanocysts in these melanomas are more prone to developing.”
Pritchard and Hsiehzys co-authors also found that blue light can cause other changes in the DNA of cells, including changes that lead to cell death and chromosomal abnormalities.
“Our study shows that we can see this chromatin remodeling, and we can do it by using this genetic method,” Preglin said.
What you need to know about the melanomas that caused the study:Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill press release