Premature cell senescence in human skin: Dual face in chronic acquired pigmentary disorders

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Although senescence was originally described as an in vitro acquired cellular characteristic, it was recently recognized that senescence is physiologically and pathologically involved in aging and age-related diseases in vivo. The definition of cellular senescence has expanded to include the growth arrest caused by various cellular stresses, including DNA damage, inadequate mitochondria function, activated oncogene or tumor suppressor genes and oxidative stress. While senescence in normal aging involves various tissues over time and contributes to a decline in tissue function even with healthy aging, disease-induced premature senescence may be restricted to one or a few organs triggering a prolonged and more intense rate of accumulation of senescent cells than in normal aging. Organ-specific high senescence rate could lead to chronic diseases, especially in post-mitotic rich tissue. Recently, two opposite acquired pathological conditions related to skin pigmentation were described to be associated with premature senescence: vitiligo and melasma. In both cases, it was demonstrated that pathological dysfunctions are not restricted to melanocytes, the cell type responsible for melanin production and transport to surrounding keratinocytes. Similar to physiological melanogenesis, dermal and epidermal cells contribute directly and indirectly to deregulate skin pigmentation as a result of complex intercellular communication. Thus, despite senescence usually being reported as a uniform phenotype sharing the expression of characteristic markers, skin senescence involving mainly the dermal compartment and its paracrine function could be associated with the disappearance of melanocytes in vitiligo lesions and with the exacerbated activity of melanocytes in the hyperpigmentation spots of melasma. This suggests that the difference may arise in melanocyte intrinsic differences and/or in highly defined microenvironment peculiarities poorly explored at the current state of the art. A similar dualistic phenotype has been attributed to intratumoral stromal cells as cancer-associated fibroblasts presenting a senescent-like phenotype which influence the behavior of neoplastic cells in either a tumor-promoting or tumor-inhibiting manner. Here, we present a framework dissecting senescent-related molecular alterations shared by vitiligo and melasma patients and we also discuss disease-specific differences representing new challenges for treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100981
JournalAgeing Research Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Melanocytes
  • Melasma
  • Senescence
  • Skin
  • Vitiligo

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Ageing
  • Molecular Biology
  • Neurology


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