Melanin distribution may explain differences in keratinocyte cancer incidence between black and white populations

February 8, 2018

Epidermal DNA damage, especially to the basal layer, is an established cause of keratinocyte cancers (KCs). Large differences in KC incidence (20- to 60-fold) between white and black populations are largely attributable to epidermal melanin photoprotection in the latter. The cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer (CPD) is the most mutagenic DNA photolesion; however, most studies suggest that melanin photoprotection against CPD is modest and cannot explain the considerable skin color–based differences in KC incidence. Along with melanin quantity, solar-simulated radiation–induced CPD assessed immediately postexposure in the overall epidermis and within 3 epidermal zones was compared in black West Africans and fair Europeans. Melanin in black skin protected against CPD by 8.0-fold in the overall epidermis and by 59.0-, 16.5-, and 5.0-fold in the basal, middle, and upper epidermis, respectively. Protection was related to the distribution of melanin, which was most concentrated in the basal layer of black skin. These results may explain, at least in part, the considerable skin color differences in KC incidence. These data suggest that a DNA protection factor of at least 60 is necessary in sunscreens to reduce white skin KC incidence to a level that is comparable with that of black skin.

Fajuyigbe, D., Lwin, S., Diffey, B., Baker, R., Tobin, D., Sarkany, R. and Young, A. (2018). Melanin distribution in human epidermis affords localized protection against DNA photodamage and concurs with skin cancer incidence difference in extreme phototypes. The FASEB Journal,

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