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“Red hair” gene association found between melanoma and Parkinson’s disease

Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston suggest that melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) gene variant tied to red hair and skin vulnerability to sun damage may also raise the risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD).

In their report published online in Annals of Neurology (Jan. 23, 2017), the researchers reported that mice, which carry an inactivating mutation of MC1R and mimic the human redhead phenotype, have compromised nigrostriatal dopaminergic neuronal integrity. Consequently, they are more susceptible to dopaminergic neuron toxins 6-hydroxydopamine and 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP).

“This study is the first to show direct influences of the melanoma-linked MC1R gene on dopaminergic neurons in the brain and may provide evidence for targeting MC1R as a novel therapeutic strategy for PD,” said the lead author, Dr. Xiqun Chen, an assistant professor at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who was quoted in a press release.

Since MC1R regulates pigmentation and red hair is a shared risk factor for both melanoma and Parkinson’s disease, it is possible that, in both conditions, MC1R’s role involves pigmentation and related oxidative stress, said Dr. Chen.

“Our findings suggest further investigation into the potential of MC1R-activating agents as novel neuroprotective therapies for PD, and together with epidemiological evidence, may offer information that could guide those [people] carrying MC1R variants to seek advice from dermatologists or neurologists about their personal risk for melanoma and Parkinson’s disease,” Dr. Chen added.

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