Corticotropin releasing hormone and proopiomelanocortin involvement in the cutaneous response to stress

Andrzej Slominski, Jacobo Wortsman, Thomas Luger, Ralf Paus, Samuel Solomon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

564 Scopus citations


The skin is a known target organ for the proopiomelanocortin (POMC)- derived neuropeptides α-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH), β- endorphin, and ACTH and also a source of these peptides. Skin expression levels of the POMC gene and POMC/corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) peptides are not static but are determined by such factors as the physiological changes associated with hair cycle (highest in anagen phase), ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure, immune cytokine release, or the presence of cutaneous pathology. Among the cytokines, the proinflammatory interleukin-1 produces important upregulation of cutaneous levels of POMC mRNA, POMC peptides, and MSH receptors; UVR also stimulates expression of all the components of the CRH/POMC system including expression of the corresponding receptors. Molecular characterization of the cutaneous POMC gene shows mRNA forms similar to those found in the pituitary, which are expressed together with shorter variants. The receptors for POMC peptides expressed in the skin are functional and include MC1, MC5 and μ-opiate, although most predominant are those of the MC1 class recognizing MSH and ACTH. Receptors for CRH are also present in the skin. Because expression of, for example, the MC1 receptor is stimulated in a similar dose-dependent manner by UVR, cytokines, MSH peptides or melanin precursors, actions of the ligand peptides represent a stochastic (predictable) nonspecific response to environmental/endogenous stresses. The powerful effects of POMC peptides and probably CRH on the skin pigmentary, immune, and adnexal systems are consistent with stress-neutralizing activity addressed at maintaining skin integrity to restrict disruptions of internal homeostasis. Hence, cutaneous expression of the CRH/POMC system is highly organized, encoding mediators and receptors similar to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This CRH/POMC skin system appears to generate a function analogous to the HPA axis, that in the skin is expressed as a highly localized response which neutralizes noxious stimuli and attendant immune reactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)979-1020
Number of pages42
JournalPhysiological Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology (medical)

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