Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

An End to Sunburn Pain?

The molecule that causes the pain of sunburn could be blocked in a sunscreen additive.

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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 new study shows.

Blocking this molecule, called TRPV4, greatly protects against the painful effects of sunburn. The results were published the week of Aug. 5 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Early Edition online. The research, which was conducted in mouse models and human skin samples, could yield a way to combat sunburn and possibly several other causes of pain.

"We have uncovered a novel explanation for why sunburn hurts," said Wolfgang Liedtke, M.D., Ph.D., one of the senior authors of the study and associate 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.”

The vast majority of sunburns are caused by ultraviolet B or UVB radiation. In moderation, this component of sunlight does the body good, giving a daily dose of vitamin D and perhaps improving mood. But if people get too much, it can damage the DNA in their skin cells and increase their susceptibility to cancer. Sunburns are nature’s way of telling people to go inside and avoid further damage.

Liedtke worked together...

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