A Cure for Sunburn May be on Horizon

Enzyme photolyase repairs damaged skin DNA

(RxWiki News) Sunburns are not only painful, but we all know the bad health effects of sun damage. From melanoma and cataracts to premature aging, a sunburn is extremely harmful for your skin.

For nearly a decade, researchers have been trying to find out how to heal or repair sun damaged skin. The entire process has finally been witnessed, and what it revealed was surprising to scientists.

"Protect your skin from sun damage; see a doctor if you see spots."

A team at Ohio State University, led by Dongping Zhong, the Robert Smith Professor of Physics and professor in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State, saw the full process of sun-damaged DNA being repaired in a laboratory. What they saw contradicted prior assumptions about sunburn repair at the molecular level, and could lead to drugs or lotions that can actually heal our sunburned skin.

Zhong and his team used a laser to take super-fast measurements of the enzyme photolyase, which repairs DNA. This enzyme is naturally produced in plants and some animals, but not in humans.

Before this study, researchers thought that the enzyme repaired DNA all at once. However, the Ohio State team found that the enzyme reforms damaged DNA into its original shape, doing so one step at a time in a route that travels from one damaged site to another in delays that are just trillionths of a second.

“The enzyme needs to inject an electron into damaged DNA -- but how?” Zhong questioned. “There are two pathways. One is direct jump from the enzyme across the ring from one side to the other, which is a short distance.

But instead the electron takes the scenic route. We found that along the way, there is another molecule that acts as a bridge to speed the electron flow, and in this way, the long route actually takes less time.”

By discovering how the enzyme actually works, the researchers hope that drugs or even lotions that can repair DNA will be developed. The findings will be published in a July 2011 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Review Date: 
July 28, 2011