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As any clued-up redhead knows, the protein MC1R, found on chromosome 16, is responsible for many of the weird and wonderful elements of ginger life, including red hair, freckles and pale skin.

Aside from hair and skin pigmentation, redheads’ MC1R gene also brings with it a high skin cancer risk among those with natural red hair.

In a bid to save us delicate gingers, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have begun research into finding a way to reduce skin cancer risk in redheads. In a series of recent experiments, BUSM scientists have discovered that a modification process called palmitoylation could help.

In early stages of this research conducted on mice, they used a small molecule which could increase palmitoylation of MC1R named palmostatin B, and then exposed the model to UV light. The results found that this enhanced palmitoylation significantly reduced the risk of developing melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

“These results suggest pharmacological activation of palmitoylation prevents melanoma skin cancer in this particular model,” said study author Rutao Cui, MD, PhD, professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics and professor of dermatology at BUSM.

It’s early days, though, and much more research is needed. Cui continued: “Our study is promising, but we need more research to see how we can put our findings into practice. Interestingly, many natural products contain palmitic acid. Coconut oil is also rich in palmitic acid. We may investigate if these natural products can help us to prevent skin cancer.

“We hope our study allows for the development of a pharmacological prevention strategy for red-headed people to protect their skin and let them enjoy the sun like other people.”


Read ‘Palmitoylation-dependent activation of MC1R prevents melanomagenesis’ in Nature journal


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