Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation





First Advisor

Dr. John A. D'Orazio

Second Advisor

Dr. Francisco H. Andrade


Malignant cutaneous melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and a majority of melanoma diagnoses are a result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation causes DNA damage, which if not repaired correctly via nucleotide excision repair (NER) can result in mutations and melanomagenesis. The melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) is a Gs protein coupled receptor located on melanocyte plasma membranes and is involved in protecting the skin from UV induced damage. MC1R signaling results in the activation of two protective pathways: 1) induction of eumelanin synthesis downstream of micropthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF) and 2) acceleration of NER downstream of ataxia telangiectaseia mutated and Rad3 related (ATR). MC1R signaling, however, also promotes melanocyte proliferation, therefore, the activation of the MC1R pathway must be regulated. The overall hypothesis of this dissertation is that the pathways downstream of MC1R can be manipulated to protect against UV induced damage.

Chapter 2 investigates the regulation of the MC1R neutral antagonist human β-defensin 3 (βD3). UV damage did not induce βD3 mRNA expression in ex vivo human skin explants. The induction of βD3 expression instead correlated with inflammatory cytokines including TNF.

Chapter 3 investigates the interdependence and cross talk between the two protective pathways downstream of MC1R. We directly tested the effect of MITF on the acceleration of NER and the effect of ATR on the induction of eumelanin synthesis following MC1R activation. MITF was not required for the acceleration of NER as mediated by ATR, however, the induction of transcription of enzymes involved in eumelanin synthesis was dependent upon ATR kinase activity.

Finally, Chapter 4 investigates the mechanism by which MC1R promoted proliferation and whether the two UV protective pathways downstream of MC1R could be selectively activated without the risk of melanocyte proliferation. MC1R signaling resulted in activation of the mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1), a major regulator of cell growth and proliferation. Inhibition of mTORC1 signaling via rapamycin prevented MC1R induced proliferation in vitro. Rapamycin, however, did not prevent MC1R induced eumelanin synthesis or the acceleration of NER in vitro or in vivo suggesting it is possible to selectively activate the beneficial signaling pathways without the risk of melanocyte proliferation.

The results of this dissertation suggest that MC1R signaling could be augmented in individuals to prevent UV induced damage.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)