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Skin Cell Nose: Do We Smell the Skin?


Science: Our skin can smell
Not only our nose, but also the skin can obviously smell. Scientists at the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) have discovered a smell receptor in the pigment-forming cells of human skin. According to the researchers, this could open up new approaches for the treatment of skin cancer.

The research team led by Professor Dr. Dr. habil. Hanns Hatt from the RUB has for the first time detected an olfactory receptor (olfactory receptor) in the pigment-forming cells of human skin (melanocytes). The scientists report that this is activated by the violet-like fragrance beta ionone. Our skin can therefore perceive the smell. The stimulation of the receptor also influences the activity of the melanocytes, which the researchers hope can also be used for therapeutic purposes. The RUB scientists have published their results together with colleagues from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena and the University Clinic in Jena in the journal "Journal of Biological Chemistry".

Olfactory receptor detected in melanocytes
When analyzing cell cultures, the scientists were able to identify "the olfactory receptor 51E2 in cell cultures of melanocytes from human skin", according to the RUB. These cells are responsible for the formation of melanin in the skin, which gives the skin its color and has a significant influence on the sensitivity to the sun's rays. According to the RUB, an excessive growth of melanocytes can "cause excessive pigmentation and under certain circumstances also trigger black skin cancer."

Smell receptor influences melanin formation
The research team led by Prof. Hatt has also succeeded in decoding the signaling pathways that are activated in cells by the receptor 51E2. The researchers report that the receptor becomes active through the fragrance beta-ionone, which triggers a cascade of reactions similar to those that occur in the olfactory cells of the nose. As a result, the concentration of calcium ions in the cell is increased. This activates signaling pathways, at the end of which phosphate groups are transferred to certain enzymes, such as the MAP kinases. With the newly discovered receptor, this mechanism regulates the activity of the enzymes and thus cell growth and melanin formation.

New therapeutic options
According to the head of the study, Professor Hatt, the receptor and its activating scent could also "be a new starting point for the treatment of melanoma." Because when healthy melanocytes are transformed into tumor cells, "they multiply more, but specialize less well in their actual tasks" , explains the expert. Exactly these properties appear to be influenced by the fragrance beta ionone with its associated receptor. In studies on melanoma cells, which were taken from patients' biopsies, a more detailed examination of the effect of the olfactory receptor and its activating fragrance is now to be carried out. According to the researchers, another application for the newly discovered receptor would be, for example, the treatment of pigmentation disorders in the skin - "but it could also be used in tanning agents," says Prof. Hatt. (fp)

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