The Response of Human Skin Commensal Bacteria as a Reflection of UV Radiation: UV-B Decreases Porphyrin Production

Yanhan Wang, Wenhong Zhu, Muya Shu, Yong Jiang, Richard L. Gallo, Yu Tsueng Liu, Chun Ming Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Recent global radiation fears reflect the urgent need for a new modality that can simply determine if people are in a radiation risk of developing cancer and other illnesses. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation has been thought to be the major risk factor for most skin cancers. Although various biomarkers derived from the responses of human cells have been revealed, detection of these biomarkers is cumbersome, probably requires taking live human tissues, and varies significantly depending on human immune status. Here we hypothesize that the reaction of Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), a human resident skin commensal, to UV radiation can serve as early surrogate markers for radiation risk because the bacteria are immediately responsive to radiation. In addition, the bacteria can be readily accessible and exposed to the same field of radiation as human body. To test our hypothesis, P. acnes was exposed to UV-B radiation. The production of porphyrins in P. acnes was significantly reduced with increasing doses of UV-B. The porphyrin reduction can be detected in both P. acnes and human skin bacterial isolates. Exposure of UV-B to P. acnes- inoculated mice led to a significant decrease in porphyrin production in a single colony of P. acnes and simultaneously induced the formation of cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPD) in the epidermal layers of mouse skin. Mass spectrometric analysis via a linear trap quadrupole (LTQ)-Orbitrap XL showed that five peptides including an internal peptide (THLPTGIVVSCQNER) of a peptide chain release factor 2 (RF2) were oxidized by UV-B. Seven peptides including three internal peptides of 60 kDa chaperonin 1 were de-oxidized by UV-B. When compared to UV-B, gamma radiation also decreased the porphyrin production of P. acnes in a dose-dependent manner, but induced a different signature of protein oxidation/de-oxidation. We highlight that uncovering response of skin microbiome to radiation will facilitate the development of pre-symptomatic diagnosis of radiation risk in a battlefield exposure, nuclear accidents, terrorist attacks, or cancer imaging/therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere47798
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
StatePublished - 25 Oct 2012


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