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      Variants of the melanocyte-stimulating hormone receptor gene are associated with red hair and fair skin in humans.

      Nature genetics

      Base Sequence, Genetic Variation, Hair Color, genetics, Humans, Molecular Sequence Data, Polymerase Chain Reaction, Receptors, Pituitary Hormone, Skin Pigmentation, Sunburn

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          Abstract

          Melanin pigmentation protects the skin from the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation (UVR). There are two types of melanin, the red phaeomelanin and the black eumelanin, both of which are present in human skin. Eumelanin is photoprotective whereas phaeomelanin, because of its potential to generate free radicals in response to UVR, may contribute to UV-induced skin damage. Individuals with red hair have a predominance of phaeomelain in hair and skin and/or a reduced ability to produce eumelanin, which may explain why they fail to tan and are at risk from UVR. In mammals the relative proportions of phaeomelanin and eumelanin are regulated by melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH), which acts via its receptor (MC1R), on melanocytes, to increase the synthesis of eumelanin and the product of the agouti locus which antagonises this action. In mice, mutations at either the MC1R gene or agouti affect the pattern of melanogenesis resulting in changes in coat colour. We now report the presence of MC1R gene sequence variants in humans. These were found in over 80% of individuals with red hair and/or fair skin that tans poorly but in fewer than 20% of individuals with brown or black hair and in less than 4% of those who showed a good tanning response. Our findings suggest that in humans, as in other mammals, the MC1R is a control point in the regulation of pigmentation phenotype and, more importantly, that variations in this protein are associated with a poor tanning response.

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          Most cited references 13

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          The cloning of a family of genes that encode the melanocortin receptors.

          Melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) regulate pigmentation and adrenal cortical function, respectively. These peptides also have a variety of biological activities in other areas, including the brain, the pituitary, and the immune system. A complete understanding of the biological activities of these hormones requires the isolation and characterization of their corresponding receptors. The murine and human MSH receptors (MSH-Rs) and a human ACTH receptor (ACTH-R) were cloned. These receptors define a subfamily of receptors coupled to guanine nucleotide-binding proteins that may include the cannabinoid receptor.
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            Pigmentation phenotypes of variant extension locus alleles result from point mutations that alter MSH receptor function.

            Coat colors in the chestnut horse, the yellow Labrador retriever, the red fox, and one type of yellow mouse are due to recessive alleles at the extension locus. Similarly, dominant alleles at this locus are often responsible for dark coat colors in mammals, such as the melanic form of the leopard, Panthera pardus. We show here that the murine extension locus encodes the melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) receptor. In mice, the recessive yellow allele (e) results from a frameshift that produces a prematurely terminated, nonfunctioning receptor. The sombre (Eso and Eso-3J) and tobacco darkening (Etob) alleles, which both have dominant melanizing effects, results from point mutations that produce hyperactive MSH receptors. The Eso-3J receptor is constitutively activated, while the Etob receptor remains hormone responsive and produces a greater activation of its effector, adenylyl cyclase, than does the wild-type allele.
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              Agouti protein is an antagonist of the melanocyte-stimulating-hormone receptor.

              The genetic loci agouti and extension control the relative amounts of eumelanin (brown-black) and phaeomelanin (yellow-red) pigments in mammals: extension encodes the receptor for melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) and agouti encodes a novel 131-amino-acid protein containing a signal sequence. Agouti, which is produced in the hair follicle, acts on follicular melanocytes to inhibit alpha-MSH-induced eumelanin production, resulting in the subterminal band of phaeomelanin often visible in mammalian fur. Here we use partially purified agouti protein to demonstrate that agouti is a high-affinity antagonist of the MSH receptor and blocks alpha-MSH stimulation of adenylyl cyclase, the effector through which alpha-MSH induces eumelanin synthesis. Agouti was also found to be an antagonist of the melanocortin-4 receptor, a related MSH-binding receptor. Consequently, the obesity caused by ectopic expression of agouti in the lethal yellow (Ay) mouse may be due to the inhibition of melanocortin receptor(s) outside the hair follicle.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                7581459
                10.1038/ng1195-328

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