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Protective role of vitamin D signaling in skin cancer formation

Vitamin D sufficiency is associated with protection against malignancy in a number of tissues clinically, and a strong body of evidence from animal and cell culture studies supports this protective role. Cancers in the skin differ, however, in that higher serum levels of 25OHD are associated with increased basal cell carcinomas (BCC), the most common form of epidermal malignancy. This result may be interpreted as indicating the role of UVR (spectrum 280–320) in producing vitamin D in the skin as well as causing those DNA mutations and proliferative changes that lead to epidermal malignancies. Recent animal studies have shown that mice lacking the vitamin D receptor (VDR) are predisposed to developing skin tumors either from chemical carcinogens such as 7,12-dimethylbenzanthracene (DMBA) or chronic UVR exposure. Such studies suggest that vitamin D production and subsequent signaling through the VDR in the skin may have evolved in part as a protective mechanism against UVR induced epidermal cancer formation. In this manuscript we provide evidence indicating that vitamin D signaling protects the skin from cancer formation by controlling keratinocyte proliferation and differentiation, facilitating DNA repair, and suppressing activation of the hedgehog (Hh) pathway following UVR exposure.