Beta-Carotene May Suppress Gene Involved in Sunburn

BACKGROUND: Several studies have found that beta-carotene supplements may help protect against sunburn when used as an adjunct to sunscreen. The beta-carotene likely increases the antioxidant reservoir in skin cells, reducing the degree of free-radical damage. On a genetic level, the heme oxygenase 1 (HO-1) gene is "expressed," or activated, in skin cells exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight. The activation of this gene is considered a marker of "oxidative" stress.

RESEARCH: Researchers cultured human skin cells in six different concentrations of beta-carotene. The cells were then exposed to UVA radiation, and the consequential activity of the HO-1 gene was tracked.

RESULTS: Beta-carotene suppressed the UVA-induced activity of the HO-1 gene. The effect of beta-carotene was related to its concentration, with higher doses having a greater suppressive effect on the gene.

IMPLICATIONS: According to the researchers, suppression of UVA-induced levels of the HO-1 gene occurred at concentrations of beta-carotene that have been observed in human plasma after beta-carotene supplementation. In addition, these results support the role of beta-carotene as an antioxidant.

Trekli MC, Riss G, Goralczyk R, et al, "Beta-carotene suppresses UVA- induced HO-1 gene expression in cultured FEK4," Free Radical Biology & Medicine, 2003;34:456-464.

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