Does blue light restore human epidermal barrier function via activation of Opsin during cutaneous wound healing?

Irene Castellano-Pellicena, Natallia E. Uzunbajakava, Charles Mignon, Bianca Raafs, Vladimir A. Botchkarev, M. Julie Thornton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


Background and Objective: Visible light has beneficial effects on cutaneous wound healing, but the role of potential photoreceptors in human skin is unknown. In addition, inconsistency in the parameters of blue and red light-based therapies for skin conditions makes interpretation difficult. Red light can activate cytochrome c oxidase and has been proposed as a wound healing therapy. UV-blue light can activate Opsin 1-SW, Opsin 2, Opsin 3, Opsin 4, and Opsin 5 receptors, triggering biological responses, but their role in human skin physiology is unclear. Materials and Methods: Localization of Opsins was analyzed in situ in human skin derived from face and abdomen by immunohistochemistry. An ex vivo human skin wound healing model was established and expression of Opsins confirmed by immunohistochemistry. The rate of wound closure was quantitated after irradiation with blue and red light and mRNA was extracted from the regenerating epithelial tongue by laser micro-dissection to detect changes in Opsin 3 (OPN3) expression. Retention of the expression of Opsins in primary cultures of human epidermal keratinocytes and dermal fibroblasts was confirmed by qRT-PCR and immunocytochemistry. Modulation of metabolic activity by visible light was studied. Furthermore, migration in a scratch-wound assay, DNA synthesis and differentiation of epidermal keratinocytes was established following irradiation with blue light. A role for OPN3 in keratinocytes was investigated by gene silencing. Results: Opsin receptors (OPN1-SW, 3 and 5) were similarly localized in the epidermis of human facial and abdominal skin in situ. Corresponding expression was confirmed in the regenerating epithelial tongue of ex vivo wounds after 2 days in culture, and irradiation with blue light stimulated wound closure, with a corresponding increase in OPN3 expression. Expression of Opsins was retained in primary cultures of epidermal keratinocytes and dermal fibroblasts. Both blue and red light stimulated the metabolic activity of cultured keratinocytes. Low levels of blue light reduced DNA synthesis and stimulated differentiation of keratinocytes. While low levels of blue light did not alter keratinocyte migration in a scratch wound assay, higher levels inhibited migration. Gene silencing of OPN3 in keratinocytes was effective (87% reduction). The rate of DNA synthesis in OPN3 knockdown keratinocytes did not change following irradiation with blue light, however, the level of differentiation was decreased. Conclusions: Opsins are expressed in the epidermis and dermis of human skin and in the newly regenerating epidermis following wounding. An increase in OPN3 expression in the epithelial tongue may be a potential mechanism for the stimulation of wound closure by blue light. Since keratinocytes and fibroblasts retain their expression of Opsins in culture, they provide a good model to investigate the mechanism of blue light in wound healing responses. Knockdown of OPN3 led to a reduction in early differentiation of keratinocytes following irradiation with blue light, suggesting OPN3 is required for restoration of the barrier function. Understanding the function and relationship of different photoreceptors and their response to specific light parameters will lead to the development of reliable light-based therapies for cutaneous wound healing. Lasers Surg. Med.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)370-382
Number of pages13
JournalLasers in Surgery and Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • blue light
  • epidermal keratinocytes
  • ex vivo wound healing and epidermal barrier
  • OPN1-SW
  • OPN3
  • OPN5
  • Opsins
  • photobiomodulation
  • red light
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Humans
  • Wound Healing/radiation effects
  • Biomarkers/metabolism
  • Soft Tissue Injuries/metabolism
  • Opsins/metabolism
  • Light
  • Female
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Low-Level Light Therapy/methods
  • Skin/injuries


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