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Proprotein Convertase Furin Regulates Melanogenesis via the Notch Signaling Pathway

Luo L, Jia W, Zhang Y, Guo Y, Zhu J, Li C
Discov Med. 2023 Apr 1;35(175):144-156. doi: 10.24976/Discov.Med.202335175.15
Background: Furin is a calcium-dependent serine protease found in almost all mammals. It plays an important role in embryogenesis, tissue homeostasis, tumors pathogenesis, viral infectious diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases. However, whether furin directly regulates melanin synthesis and transport has rarely been evaluated yet. The present study aimed to investigate furin potential function and mechanisms in melanogenesis. Methods: Short hairpin RNAs targeting furin gene (sh-furin RNAs) were used to inhibit furin gene expression in human melanoma cell line MNT-1 cells. Then, intracellular melanin content was measured using a sodium hydroxide method. Extracellular melanin content was measured determining cell culture medium absorbance at 450 nm. Levodopa (L-DOPA) oxidation rate was measured to assess the tyrosinase activity. Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) and western blotting (WB) were performed to measure melanogenesis-related genes and Notch pathway-related genes expression levels. Human primary melanocytes (MCs) were extracted from foreskin tissues and were stimulated with a furin inhibitor. Then, the extracellular and intracellular melanin content, tyrosinase activity and molecules related to melanogenesis and the Notch pathway expression were measured in MCs with or without a furin inhibitor. Additionally, morpholino technology was used to inhibit furin in zebrafish. Zebrafish pigmentary phenotypes in the control group and furin inhibition group were observed with a stereo microscope. Then, MCs number in the tail and head of the zebrafish were counted using Image J software (version 1.53t, National Institute of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA). Meanwhile, melanin content, tyrosinase activity, and molecules related to melanogenesis and the Notch pathway expression levels were measured. Subsequently, valproic acid (VPA), a Notch pathway agonist, was used in MNT-1 melanoma cells treated with or without sh-furin lentiviral vectors for rescue experiments. Results: Furin inhibition enhanced intracellular and extracellular melanin content, and cellular tyrosinase activity in MNT-1 cells and MCs. Additionally, furin inhibition increased melanin synthesis-associated and transport-associated proteins expression levels while inhibiting Notch pathway-relevant proteins. After using VPA to activate the Notch pathway in MNT-1 cells transfected with a sh-furin RNA, the biological effects resulting from furin knockdown were reversed. In addition, the results of in vivo experiments using morpholino to knock down furin gene in zebrafish further confirmed that furin knockdown regulated melanogenesis and impaired the Notch pathway. Conclusions: This study clarified that furin affected the synthesis and transport of melanin via Notch pathway. Notch pathway may be a potential therapeutic target for pigmented skin diseases.
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