Stefan Beissert, Annette MehLing, Thomas Schwarz

Among the wide-ranging environmental factors affecting human life, ultraviolet (UV) irradiation can be regarded as one of the most significant. Although UV light has an essential impact on terrestrial and aquatic ecology and is a fundamental necessity for the life of humans, animals, and plants, mid-wavelength UVB (290-320 nm) in particular can also exert hazardous effects on health. UV radiation not only plays an instrumental role in the development of skin cancer but also has profound effects on local and systemic inflammatory responses. While studying the biological effects of UVB irradiation, it has become evident that UV exposure can significantly compromise the immune system. The implications of the immunosuppres-sive properties of UV irradiation are manifold because UVB-induced immunosup-pression not only is responsible for the inhibition of protective cell-mediated immunity but also contributes to the initiation, development, and perpetuation of several skin disorders (Fisher et al. 1997, Kochevar 1995, Kraemer 1997, Kripke 1990, Unna 1894, Urbach et al. 1974). These effects include induction of inflammation and cell death, premature skin aging, exacerbation of infectious diseases, and induction of skin cancer and photosensitive diseases such as cutaneous lupus erythematosus (LE), polymorphous light eruption, and solar urticaria. Some of these clinical effects of solar irradiation were first described more than 100 years ago (Unna 1894). Therefore, detailed knowledge about the mechanisms underlying UVB-mediated immunomodulation is of utmost importance. Extensive investigations have been performed in the field of photoimmunology in the past three decades, and it has become much clearer by which mechanisms UVB irradiation suppresses immunity (Beissert 2002, Beissert and Granstein 1996, Beissert and Schwarz 1999, DeFabo and Kripe 1979, Kock et al. 1990, Setlow 1974). Most of the experiments were performed in mice using the contact hypersensitivity (CHS) or delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) model to haptens as well as photocarcinogenesis experiments (Beissert 2002, Beissert and Schwarz 1999). These models have provided important information not only for photoimmunology but also for immunology per se. In the following section, the effects of UV exposure on the murine and human immune systems are briefly reviewed.

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