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Breakthrough in treatment of melanin-linked skin conditions

Over-production of melanin from too much sun exposure can cause skin problems like age spots or liver spots.

By Amy Wallace
This is a crystal structure of TYRP1. Tyrosine is bound to the active site, where the zinc metal ions, red spheres, coordinate the functional role. This process may lead to treatment to reverse age spots. Photo by of Montse Soler López/ESRF
This is a crystal structure of TYRP1. Tyrosine is bound to the active site, where the zinc metal ions, red spheres, coordinate the functional role. This process may lead to treatment to reverse age spots. Photo by of Montse Soler López/ESRF

July 5 (UPI) -- Age spots on the skin may be a thing of the past after new research found a breakthrough way to potentially reverse the effects of too much sun exposure.

Age spots, also known as liver spots, can be caused by too much sun exposure and the dysfunctional production of melanin.

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Researchers discovered the structure of one of the three enzymes that make melanin in humans, which may allow for the design of whitening compounds that could remove the discoloration of the skin known as age spots.

When these enzymes do not work properly they can cause melanoma, albinism and stains or spots on the skin.

The study, published this week in Angewandte Chemie, was conducted by researchers at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, the University of Groningen and Wageningen Food and Biobased Research in the Netherlands.

Researchers used enzymes from fungus or plants to make compounds to target humans.

The study also revealed that TYRP1 requires zinc to work, which contradicts previous beliefs that the enzyme needs copper to function.

"We have managed to purify and crystallize tyrosinase and tyrosinase related protein 1 [TYRP1] and we have solved the structure of the TYRP1," Xuelei Lai, a researcher at the ESRF, said in a press release. "This is the first structure available for a mammalian melanogenic enzyme. We believe that if we follow the same procedure we could probably solve the structure of tyrosinase and tyrosinase related protein 2, so these results look very promising in our quest to disentangle the complex way melanin is generated".

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