The negative health consequences of acute ultraviolet (UV) exposure are evident, with reports of 30,000 emergency room visits annually to treat the effects of sunburn in the United States alone. The acute effects of sunburn include erythema, edema, severe pain, and chronic overexposure to UV radiation, leading to skin cancer. Whereas the pain associated with the acute effects of sunburn may be relieved by current interventions, existing post-sunburn treatments are not capable of reversing the cumulative and long-term pathological effects of UV exposure, an unmet clinical need. Here we show that activation of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) pathway is a direct and immediate consequence of acute UV exposure, and activation of VEGF signaling is necessary for initiating the acute pathological effects of sunburn. In UV-exposed human subjects, VEGF signaling is activated within hours. Topical delivery of VEGF pathway inhibitors, targeted against the ligand VEGF-A (gold nanoparticles conjugated with anti-VEGF antibodies) and small-molecule antagonists of VEGF receptor signaling, prevent the development of erythema and edema in UV-exposed mice. These findings collectively suggest targeting VEGF signaling may reduce the subsequent inflammation and pathology associated with UV-induced skin damage, revealing a new postexposure therapeutic window to potentially inhibit the known detrimental effects of UV on human skin. It is essential to emphasize that these preclinical studies must not be construed as suggesting in any way the use of VEGF inhibitors as a sunburn treatment in humans because warranted future clinical studies and appropriate agency approval are essential in that regard.
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