Could sunburn pain soon be a thing of the past? New research at Duke University suggests the painful, red skin that comes from too much time in the sun is caused by a molecule abundant in the skin's epidermis — a finding that could lead to new ways to eliminate sunburn and other causes of pain.
The study, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that blocking this molecule — called TRPV4 — can alleviate the painful effects of sunburn.
"We have uncovered a novel explanation for why sunburn hurts," said Wolfgang Liedtke, M.D., a professor of neurology and neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine. "If we understand sunburn better, we can understand pain better because what plagues my patients day in and day out is what temporarily affects otherwise healthy people who suffer from sunburn."
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For the research, Dr. Liedtke and colleagues studied TRPV in skin samples from mice people.
The experiments showed that UVB exposure activates TRPV4, which triggers a series of events that lead to the pain and itching typically caused by sunburn. Further studies also showed they could block the action the molecule using a drug compound called GSK205 — effecting rendering skin resistant to the pain-inducing and disrupting effects of sunburn.
The researchers said the results suggest TRPV4 could be used to prevent and treat sunburn, and probably chronic sun damage including skin cancer or skin photo-aging, but more research is needed.
"I think we should be cautious because we want to see what inhibition of TRPV4 will do to other processes going on in the skin," Dr. Liedtke added. "Once these concerns will be addressed, we will need to adapt TRPV4 blockers to make them more suitable for topical application. I could imagine it being mixed with traditional sunblock to provide stronger protections against UVB exposure."
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.
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