Author(s): Roberts DW, Newton RA, Beaumont KA, Helen Leonard J, Sturm RA
To address the issue of melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) expression in non-melanocytic cells, we have quantitatively evaluated the relative expression levels of both MC1R mRNA and protein in a subset of different cell types. Using semi-quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) at high cycle numbers, we detected MC1R mRNA in all cell types examined, including human embryonic kidney-293 (HEK 293) cells, a cell type widely used as a negative control in melanocortin expression studies. Quantitative real-time PCR revealed the highest levels of MC1R transcripts were in melanocytic cells, whereas the keratinocyte and fibroblast cell cultures examined had only a low level of expression, similar to that of HEK 293 cells. Antibody mediated detection of MC1R protein in membrane extracts demonstrated exogenous receptor in MC1R transfected cell lines, as well as endogenous MC1R in melanoma cells. However, radioligand binding procedures were required to detect MC1R protein of normal human melanocytes and no surface expression of MC1R was detected in any of the non-melanocytic cells examined. This was consistent with their low level of mRNA, and suggests that, if present, the levels of surface receptor are significantly lower than that in melanocytes. The capacity of such limited levels of MC1R protein to influence non-melanocytic skin cell biology would likely be severely compromised. Indeed, the MC1R agonist [NIe(4), D-Phe(7)] alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (NDP-MSH) was unable to elevate intracellular cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) levels in the keratinocyte and fibroblast cells examined, whereas a robust increase was elicited in melanocytes. Although there are a variety of cell types with detectable MC1R mRNA, the expression of physiologically significant levels of the receptor may be more restricted than the current literature indicates, and within epidermal tissue may be limited to the melanocyte.