BOCHUM. Scientists at Ruhr-Universität have proven the existence of olfactory receptors in human skin cells that produce pigment (melanocytes). The research team, lead by Prof. Dr. Habil. Hanns Hatt, showed that a scent of violet can activate certain receptors within these skin cells.
Along with their colleagues, the group identified an olfactory receptor known as 51E2 in a cell culture of human skin. These cells produce black melanin which gives skin its tan color. It’s been previously found that if these cells are over-stimulated, they may produce too much of this black melanin which results in excessive pigmentation and increased risk for skin cancer.
The signalling pathway of this newly discovered 51E2 receptor was examined in detail. It was found that it is possible for certain odorants to bind to the receptor and initiate a chemical cascade of cell signalling that resembles the same process that occurs in the nose. Signalling pathways then lead to the activation of phosphate groups on key enzymes such as MAP-kinases which regulate cell growth and melanin synthesis.
The 51E2 uses this process of cell signalling to detect how frequently the MAP-kinase enzymes have been activated, and thus indirectly regulates a number of biological processes to do with melanin production.
Dr Hatt states that this new receptor and activating odor molecules could be used as a new target in melanoma cancer therapy. When healthy melanocytes mutate into cancer cells to create tumors, their rate of proliferation is greatly increased leading to cancer build-up. Additionally, their core vital functions become reduced.
The actual odorant used within the study is Beta-Ionone, which resembles the smell of violet. Currently, Dr. Hatt and his research team are conducting a follow-up research study examining the biopsies of melanoma cells to get a better idea of how the olfactory activation of skin cells can be used to inhibit cancer growth. However, healthcare isn’t the only target behind this discovery.
Dr. Hatt states that olfactory activators of skin cells like Beta-Ionone could be used in the future to treat pigmentation disorders and perhaps even find use in cosmetics or tanning products.
Study Source: Journal Of Biological Chemistry