Do we need pigment to develop melanoma?

Do we need pigment to develop melanoma? This question was discussed at the 2017 European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology by Professor David E Fisher, who presented interesting findings in melanoma research.

Research shows that black mice with BRAF mutations that activate the RAS/RAF/MEK/ERK pathway develop multiple nevi. On the other hand, 50 percent of red mice with the same changes develop melanoma without being exposed to UV light. If the red mice are albino, no melanoma appears.

The data suggests that pheomelanin – which is responsible for red-coloured hair – is a procarcinogenic that does not need UV light, and that its effects can be enhanced by UV light.

Extending these results to humans, Professor Fisher hypothesised that amelanotic melanomas – that is, lesions lacking dark pigment and instead appearing pink, red or purple – may contain pheomelanin.

His team has already found three of three human amelanotic melanomas tested to have pheomelanin using special imaging systems. If confirmed, the findings will be revolutionary and new tools to detect pheomelanin in the skin will be needed soon.

Professor Fisher also reported experiments to rescue dark pigment in pheomelanin mice. Molecules were topically applied, activating a brown colour in mice skin. If this was applied to humans, we would have a revolution in skin colour.

Read more research on skin pigmentation and melanoma.


Professor David E Fisher. (13-17 September 2017.) Do we need pigment to develop melanoma? 26th EADV Congress 2017 Conference Review. Research Review. Page 2.

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