Study Pinpoints Rare Molecular 'Transitions' As Possible Cause Of Skin 'Photoaging'

DURHAM, N.C.--Experimenting with lasers, a biophysical chemistry team now at Duke University has discovered rare, hard-to-detect interactions between skin molecules and sunlight that eventually could cause the uncomplimentary changes characteristic of "photoaging."

A group led by John Simon, Duke's George B. Geller professor of chemistry, used special sensors to analyze how molecules in the skin, called "chromophores," respond to a range of different wavelengths of ultraviolet light.

The investigators found that wavelengths in the ultraviolet-A (UV-A) range can cause sporadic weak molecular "transitions" in the chromophore urocanic acid. Those changes, they also discovered, can raise the energy level of oxygen molecules to a damaging "singlet" state.

UV-A, a commonplace group of wavelengths in sunlight that reaches Earth's surface, has already been linked to skin photoaging, which produces "deep lines," a "leathered appearance" and a "sagging of the skin's surface typically associated with old age," Simon and another researcher wrote in a report on the findings.

Authored by Simon and Kerry Hanson, his former doctoral student now at the University of Illinois in Champagne-Urbana, that report is published in the Sept. 1 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their research, supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, began at the University of California at San Diego, where Simon's team previously worked.

Urocanic acid, a breakdown product formed as the outer layer of cells in skin die, is among the chromophores known to absorb approximately the same wavelengths of sunlight as does DNA in living skin, Simon said in an interview. Urocanic acid thus was thought to help protect DNA in living skin from ultraviolet light damage, which can lead to cancer.

The molecule was even used for a time as a sun screen ingredient. But manufacturers in the

Contact: Monte Basgall
(919) 681-8057
Duke University

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