Wavelength dependence of pyrimidine dimer formation in DNA of human skin irradiated in situ with ultraviolet light

S. E. Freeman, H. Hacham, R. W. Gange, D. J. Maytum, J. C. Sutherland, B. M. Sutherland

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The UV components of sunlight are believed to be a major cause of human skin cancer, and DNA is thought to be the principal molecular target. Alterations of the intensity and wavelength distribution of solar UV radiation reaching the surface of the earth, for example by depletion of stratospheric ozone, will change the effectiveness of solar radiation in damaging DNA in human skin. Evaluation of the magnitude of such effects requires knowledge of the altered sunlight spectrum and of the action spectrum for damaging DNA in human skin. We have determined an action spectrum for the frequency of pyrimidine dimer formation induced in the DNA of human skin per unit dose of UV incident on the skin surface. The peak of this action spectrum is near 300 nm and decreases rapidly at both longer and shorter wavelengths. The decrease in our action spectrum for wavelengths <300 nm is attributed to the absorption of the upper layers of the skin, an in situ effect that is inherently included in our measurements. Convolution of the dimer action spectrum with the solar spectra corresponding to a solar angle of 40° under current levels of stratospheric ozone (0.32-cm O3 layer) and those for 50% ozone depletion (0.16-cm O3 layer), indicate about a 2.5-fold increase in dimer formation. If the action spectrum for DNA damage that results in skin cancer resembles that for dimer induction in skin, our results, combined with epidemiological data, suggest that a 50% decrease in stratospheric ozone would increase the incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancers among white males in Seattle, Washington, by 7.5- to 8-fold, to a higher incidence than is presently seen in the corresponding population of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5605-5609
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes

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