Premature aging of the skin is a prominent side effect of psoralen photoactivation, a treatment used widely for various skin disorders. The molecular mechanisms underlying premature aging upon psoralen photoactivation are as yet unknown. Here we show that treatment of fibroblasts with 8-methoxypsoralen (8-MOP) and subsequent ultraviolet A (UVA) irradiation resulted in a permanent switch of mitotic to stably postmitotic fibroblasts which acquired a high level of de novo expression of SA-beta-galactosidase, a marker for fibroblast senescence in vitro and in vivo. A single exposure of fibroblasts to 8-MOP/UVA resulted in a 5.8-fold up-regulation of two matrix-degrading enzymes, interstitial collagenase (MMP-1) and stromelysin-1 (MMP-3), over a period of >120 days, while TIMP-1, the major inhibitor of MMP-1 and MMP-3, was only slightly induced. This imbalance between matrix-degrading metalloproteases and their inhibitor may lead to connective tissue damage, a hallmark of premature aging. Superoxide anion and hydrogen peroxide, but not singlet oxygen, were identified as important intermediates in the downstream signaling pathway leading to these complex fibroblast responses upon psoralen photoactivation. Collectively, the end phenotype induced upon psoralen photoactivation shares several criteria of senescent cells. In the absence of detailed molecular data on what constitutes normal aging, it is difficult to decide whether the changes reported here reflect mechanisms underlying normal cellular aging/senescence or rather produce a mimic of cellular aging/senescence by quite different pathways.

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