A recent publication by the Oancea Lab was featured in the May 2019 edition of KUDOS, a monthly newsletter recognizing achievements throughout the Division of Biology and Medicine and the affiliated hopitals at Brown University.
Ozdeslik, R. N., Olinski, L. E., Trieu, M. M., Oprian, D. D., & Oancea, E. (2019). Human nonvisual opsin 3 regulates pigmentation of epidermal melanocytes through functional interaction with melanocortin 1 receptor. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1902825116 Opsin 3—a protein closely related to rhodopsin, which enables low-light vision—has a role in adjusting the amount of pigment produced in human skin, Brown researchers found.
Without skin protection, the sun’s ultraviolet radiation signals our skin to produce more melanin. There are two parts to solar UV radiation: short wavelength radiation, or UVB; and long wavelength radiation, or UVA. Each is detected by the skin in different ways; how UVB makes us tan has been known for a while.
On the other hand, scientists know less about how skin detects and responds to UVA. Elena Oancea, PhD, an associate professor of medical science, and colleagues now have some answers; their findings were published in May in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We’ve found the role of opsin 3 in human melanocytes and figured out the molecular steps that allow opsin 3 to achieve this function,” Oancea says. “Opsin 3 modulates how much pigment the cells make, but, surprisingly, it does so independent of light.”
Now that they have determined opsin 3’s role in skin pigmentation, the researchers want to know where else in the body opsin 3 is produced, what functions it might have, and how to turn its activity on or off, Oancea says.
The finding that opsin 3 can adjust how much pigment melanocytes make suggests that it could be a target for treating pigmentation disorders, such as albinism, which is characterized by too little melanin greatly increasing sensitivity to solar UV radiation and susceptibility to skin cancer. Most pigmentation disorders have no available treatments.