The present study is an attempt to investigate the possibility that ultraviolet irradiation in the presence of pheomelanin may be more harmful to cells than the irradiation in the presence of eumelanin. The effects of UV-visible irradiation upon Ehrlich ascites carcinoma cells in the presence of the melanin isolated from human black hair (eumelanin) or from red hair (phenomelanin) were investigated. Irradiation of these cells was found to produce cell lysis, as observed by leakage of 51Cr from labeled cells and intracellular lactic dehydrogenase from the cells and decrease in cell viability demonstrated by the trypan blue exclusion test. The three parameters were quantitatively parallel to one another under various experimental conditions, namely different periods of irradiation and irradiation in the presence of different concentrations of melanin. The above effects were more pronounced when the irradiation was carried out in the presence of melanin from red hair than in the presence of black-hair melanin. In the absence of either melanin, the irradiation did not produce any significant effect in cell viability or cell lysis. Irradiation of the cells in the presence of red-hair melanin also decreased the transplantability of these cells. These observations clearly show that irradiation of cells in the presence of pheomelanin could produce cytotoxic effects. The present experimental design may have application in the development of in vitro models for the study of UV radiation-induced cutaneous carcinogenesis. The reactions of pheomelanin may be related to the susceptibility of “Celtic” skin to UV radiation-induced skin damage and carcinogenesis.


This work was supported by a grant (MA-5043) from the Medical Research Council of Canada, Philip Smith Foundation.

This content is only available via PDF.