Epidermal Melanocyte Response to Radiotherapy

Sammanfattning: Cutaneous interfollicular melanocytes protect the skin from UV-radiation (UVR), and their response to UVR is well established. To date, the response activated in melanocytes by repeated genotoxic insults from radiotherapy (RT) has not been explored. Assuming that the molecular pathways involved in the melanocyte response to UVR are similar upon ionizing radiation, the aim of this work was to examine the effects of RT concerning UVR-response proteins and resistance to DNA damage to reveal mechanisms behind hyperpigmentation and depigmentation caused by RT. The results are based on immunostained tissue sections of 530 not sun-exposed skin punch biopsies. These are collected before, during, and after the end of adjuvant RT from the thoracic wall of breast cancer patients and the hip region of prostate cancer patients receiving curative RT. Fractionated RT with daily doses between 0.05 and 2.0 Gy, as well as hypofractionation and accelerated fractionation were investigated. Based on this clinical assay sterilizing the hair follicles, excluding migration of immature melanocytes from the bulge, it was ensured that interfollicular melanocytes are an autonomous self-renewing cell population with cells presenting different degrees of differentiation of which one fourth is immature; the melanocytes divide rarely and are absolute radioresistant to any dose schedule of RT applied, keeping the number of melanocytes intact. Hyperradiosensitivity to dose fractions of 0.05 to 0.3 Gy is observed for DNA double strand breaks (DSBs), differentiation and anti-apoptotic signaling. Proliferation is not stimulated and apoptosis is negligible upon exposure to RT, and also post-treatment. Melanocyte differentiation is maintained during RT, but dedifferentiation occurs after RT ends. The expected activation of the p53/p21 signaling upon RT appears in keratinocytes but is attenuated in melanocytes. A new observation is that melanocytes constitutively express BMI1, further upregulated upon irradiation, indicating that melanocytes have stem cell properties, which suggest that BMI1 prevents apoptosis, terminal differentiation and premature senescence and likely allows dedifferentiation by suppressing the p53/p21-mediated response to genotoxic damage, in addition to the repression of p16 and ARF. Melanocytes exhibit and accumulate a higher amount of DSBs during the RT period compared to keratinocytes, indicating reduced repair capacity of DSBs in melanocytes. Thus, only efficient pro-survival mechanisms can explain the melanocyte radioresistance regarding cell death. The findings in this thesis suggest that melanocytes are protected by activation of the BMI1-NF-kappa/β-CXCL8/CXCR2 pathway, in addition to upregulation of Bcl-2 by melanocyte-specific MITF (microphthalmia-associated transcription factor).

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