It's quite an easy lesson to learn: Don't fall asleep at the beach -- especially without sunblock -- lest you suffer the consequences of severe pain, red skin, peeling and, of course, an increased risk of skin cancer.
But now, scientists have identified a protein in the body that triggers pain from sunburn and could serve as a good target for pain-relieving medicines, as well as an antibody that seems to reduce the sensitivity to that pain in mice, according to a new study that will be published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The finding could be the first step toward a cure for pain caused by inflammation.
The protein, called CXCL5, exists at high levels when skin is burned by ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, BBC News reported.
Stephen McMahon, a physiology professor at Guy's Medical School in London, and his colleagues exposed 10 volunteers to UVB rays, which then caused a small area of sunburn. Then, one to two days later, the researchers collected samples of the sunburned skin to look for different chemicals and proteins indicative of pain, Reuters reported.
The researchers found high levels of CXCL5 in the sunburned skin, so they then tried giving sunburns to rats to see if they also had high levels of the protein -- which they did, according to Reuters.
After testing the rats further, researchers found that giving them an antibody helped to relieve their pain from the sunburn. That antibody could be used in future research as a pain-reliever, Reuters said.
"It wasn't known before that this protein was implicated in any kind of pain," McMahon told ABC News. "If you wanted a cure for sunburn pain, we may have found that."
However, stopping pain from sunburn may not be a completely good thing. Pain is a sign that something is wrong, and stopping the feeling of pain would rid the body of that natural warning sign, McMahon told ABC News.
But the finding could provide hope for pain relief from other inflammatory conditions, like arthritis, researchers said.