Genetic variations in the skin can create a natural sunscreen

Natural sunscreen gene influences how we make vitamin D.


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Vitamin D is the sunshine hormone, and we need bright sunshine on the skin to make it, but variations in our genes also influence how efficient we are at doing that, suggests a new study.

According to a new study by the University of Queensland, genetic variants in the HAL (histidine ammonia-lyase) gene can vary the concentration of a small molecule in the skin, which acts like an internal Sun Protection Factor, or SPF. 

This molecule soaks up UVB light – the light our bodies use to make vitamin D- and the amount of it in our skin influences how much of the vitamin we can make.

Professor John McGrath from UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute said this was one of several ways vitamin D affected the body in a collaborative study that looked at the genomes of more than half a million people from the United Kingdom.

“This study has implicated several new skin-related genes that impact on our vitamin D status — distinct from skin color which affects our ability to make vitamin D depending on the concentration of the pigment melanin in the skin.”

Professor Naomi Wray from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and Queensland Brain Institute said the team found 143 gene locations linked to vitamin D concentration.

“Previously, we only knew about six regions, so these findings will provide new insights into how our body handles vitamin D,” Professor Wray said.

“The study has found many interesting new candidates that can help our understanding of factors that influence vitamin D concentration.

“Our findings are a treasure trove of clues which will keep researchers busy for a long time.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Joana A. Revez, Tian Lin, Zhen Qiao, Angli Xue, Yan Holtz, Zhihong Zhu, Jian Zeng, Huanwei Wang, Julia Sidorenko, Kathryn E. Kemper, Anna A. E. Vinkhuyzen, Julanne Frater, Darryl Eyles, Thomas H. J. Burne, Brittany Mitchell, Nicholas G. Martin, Gu Zhu, Peter M. Visscher, Jian Yang, Naomi R. Wray & John J. McGrath. Genome-wide association study identifies 143 loci associated with 25 hydroxyvitamin D concentrations. Nature Communications, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-15421-7


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