Everybody learns that if you get sunburned, it hurts. However, until recently, the molecular trigger for this pain was a mystery. Pictured are the vital cells that make up our skin. Known as keratinocytes, their flat, wafer-like shapes form layers that keep in moisture and protect the tissue below. Ultraviolet (UV) light, a normal component of sunlight, is harmful to keratinocytes because it interferes with their DNA, damaging the molecular instructions for keeping cells healthy. They respond by becoming inflamed and painfully sensitive, which we know as sunburn. Scientists working with cell cultures and genetically modified mice have identified a key molecule in skin cells called TRPV4 that activates the painful response to UV. Future research could use this as the basis for developing a treatment to alleviate sunburn pain, or even prevent it altogether.
Written by Fred White-Flower
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