Keap1 knockdown in melanocytes induces cell proliferation and survival via HO-1-associated β-catenin signaling

Ji Young Kim, Hemin Lee, Eun Jung Lee, Mikyoung Kim, Tae-Gyun Kim, Hyoung-Pyo Kim, Sang Ho Oh
Journal of Dermatological Science 2017, 88 (1): 85-95

BACKGROUND: Nrf2-Keap1 signaling pathway protects cells against photo-oxidative stress. Yet in recent works, its role in melanogenesis together with cell protection functions against oxidative stress has been gaining interest. However, its effect on melanogenesis still has contradictory results from different studies.

OBJECTIVE: The aims of our study were to investigate the effect of Keap1 silencing in melanocyte on melanogenesis and its associated mechanism.

METHODS: Primary human epidermal melanocytes and melan-a cell line were used for this experiment. RNA sequencing was done to identify genes involved in melanocyte biology using Keap1 knockdown through siRNA techniques. And melanogenesis and the expression of melanogenesis-associated molecules were evaluated in Keap1 silenced melanocyte to examine the effects of Keap1 on melanogenesis, melanocyte growth, and related pathways.

RESULTS: RNA-sequencing data revealed that Keap1 knockdown in primary human epidermal melanocytes (PHEMs) induced cell survival-related gene expression. Additionally, siRNA-mediated inhibition of Keap1 led to upregulation of MITF and melanogenesis-associated molecules along with Nrf2 activation in PHEMs. HO-1, a major gene that is upregulated in RNA-sequencing using Keap1-silenced PHEMs, protected melanocytes against H2 O2 -induced cell death and upregulated MITF and β-catenin expression. Further, increased expression of melanogenesis-associated molecules after Keap1 silencing was validated to occur through HO-1-associated β-catenin activation in a Keap1 and HO-1 double knockdown experiment.

CONCLUSION: This work suggests that Keap1 silencing in melanocytes induced melanogenesis and the expression of melanogenesis-associated molecules through HO-1-associated β-catenin activation. Keap1 downregulation in melanocytes is important for cell proliferation and survival.

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