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No More Sunburn Pain? A Future Possibility

Update Date: Aug 08, 2013 03:49 PM EDT

After the cold, brisk winter, people welcome the sun with open arms. As summer rolls around, temperatures get warmer allowing people to sunbathe at the beach, play sports at the park, or simply just go for a nice leisurely walk. However, even though the sun can feel so good shining on one's body, with the exception of a heat wave, the risk of getting burn can be quite high, especially if people forget to apply or reapply sunscreen. According to a new study, scientists report that sunburn pain could potentially be prevented.

The research team, headed by Duke University neurologist, Wolfgang Liedtke and scientists from the University of California San Francisco and Rockefeller University, has found a way to block the chain of events that leads to these nasty and painful sunburns. For their study, the team used mouse models to study the effects of blocking TRPV4, which is a molecule that appears to be linked to the pain caused by sunburns. Before the researches were able to prevent sunburns from occurring, they first examined the process of getting burned.

The researchers explained that the skin gets damaged when it is exposed to ultraviolet B rays (UVB). These rays are harmless and beneficial when absorbed in moderation. The body needs sunlight to help produce vitamin D. However, once the skin is overexposed to UVB rays, it can lead to damages that cause skin cancer and premature skin aging. The researchers noted that these UVB rays appear to trigger the activation of TRVP4 to allow calcium ions to enter into skin cells. This process then triggers the secretion and production of endothelin, a molecule that is responsible for the pain and itching the come with sunburns.

Based from this knowledge, the researchers bred mice that did not have TRPV4 in their skin's outer layer on their hind paws. The researchers then exposed UVB light onto the paws of the genetically modified mice and the paws of normal mice. They discovered that the genetically modified mice did not experience changes in their skin that would cause pain. The normal group of mice, however, developed blisters and redness that appeared to be highly painful.

Although the researchers were able to show that when TRVP4 was blocked, there was a reduction in pain, they could not determine if skin cancer risk and premature aging were also reduced.

"[TRPV4 inhibitors] will have to be used together with sunscreen because of the yet unknown issue of the long-term damage by UV rays on cell growth and on the damage it can have on DNA and the DNA structure," said Liedtke according to TIME. "We need to look into whether and how much the calcium influx through the TRPV4 channel is linked to that type of damage. It's possible the calcium influx makes defense mechanisms stronger, or weaker. It could also be that the calcium accelerates the damage."

In them meantime, remembering to put sunscreen on is the safest bet in protecting one's skin and avoiding painful burns. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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