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Engaging Tanning Pathway Sans UV Damage

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Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) have uncovered an approach to increase skin pigmentation topically without UV radiation. Their study was published in the June 13 issue of Cell Reports.

According to an MGH press release, David E. Fisher, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the department of dermatology at MGH and leader on the study, explained, “The activation of the tanning/pigmentation pathway by [a] new class of small molecules is physiologically identical to UV-induced pigmentation without the DNA-damaging effects of UV."

At the heart of this discovery are enzymes called salt-inducible kinases (SIKs), which were known to regulate the transcription of proteins along the pigmentation pathway. Inhibiting SIKs had previously been shown to activate pigmentation in mice. However, Fisher and colleagues induced pigmentation in cultured human skin treated for eight days with the small-molecule SIK inhibitors.

While he added that further assessments were required to determine the actions and safety of these agents, this work could lead to new ways of protecting against UV-induced skin damage—not to mention future cosmetic potential for self-tanners.

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