An immune system chemical may undo skin damage by sunlight.
A chemical involved in immune-system signalling may be able to reverse some types of skin damage caused by sunlight. It could reduce sunburn by activating DNA-repair mechanisms, a new study suggests, raising the possibility that the chemical might be used to prevent or treat skin cancer1.
High-energy ultraviolet light is thought to promote skin cancer by damaging the DNA within cells. Skin cancer, the most common malignancy among people of Western European descent, strikes over one million people each year in the United States alone.
IL-12 is not the first chemical found to promote DNA repair after ultraviolet damage. Earlier this year, researchers showed that a bacterial enzyme placed on the skin prevents the formation of new cancerous regions in people highly prone to skin cancer.
But unlike the bacterial enzyme, IL-12, being naturally produced by human cells, would be less likely to trigger allergic responses says Kenneth Kraemer, who works on DNA excision at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. More work is needed to clarify IL-12’s effects and possible side effects, he adds, but the idea that it could be used as a therapy for skin cancer is "provocative".
IL-12’s protective function is a surprise. It belongs to a class of signalling chemicals called cytokines, which were never suspected of being able to stimulate DNA repair.
The work "opens up a whole new area of investigation," says Kraemer. If IL-12 is involved in DNA repair, he says, other cytokines may be as well. "This is probably the tip of the iceberg."
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