The degradation of L-histidine and trans- and cis-urocanic acid by bacteria from skin and the role of bacterial cis-urocanic acid isomerase

J Photochem Photobiol B. 1999 May;50(1):66-73. doi: 10.1016/S1011-1344(99)00072-X.


UV-B radiation suppresses cell-mediated immunity. Histidine forms trans-urocanic acid (trans-UCA) enzymatically in the stratum corneum. Photoisomerization of trans-UCA to cis-urocanic acid (cis-UCA) has been proposed for the initiation of an immunosuppressive process. Many microorganisms described in the literature metabolize histidine and/or trans-UCA. Our enrichment cultures of soil and sewage contain organisms that can degrade cis-UCA. We have tested microorganisms for degradation of cis-UCA, trans-UCA, or L-histidine when they are incorporated at 0.2% in nutrient broth. Six out of 10 selected genera isolated by our clinical microbiology laboratory degrade one or more of the imidazole substrates. We have cultured over 60 aerobic isolates from human skin. Of these, 33 degrade one or more of the three imidazole substrates and 12 degrade cis-UCA. Isolates from BALB/c mice are also active on cis-UCA. We have identified a cis-UCA-degrading bacterium as Micrococcus luteus. Four ATCC strains of M. luteus have been tested and three are active on histidine or trans-UCA; two are active on cis-UCA. Micrococci that degrade cis-UCA contain a new enzyme, cis-UCA isomerase, which converts the substrate to the trans-isomer. This enzyme provides access to the classical L-histidine degradation pathway. We hypothesize that an epidermal microflora that degrades L-histidine, trans-UCA, or cis-UCA influences the concentration of urocanic acids on the skin and, thus, affects immune suppression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Bacteria, Aerobic / enzymology*
  • Bacteria, Aerobic / metabolism
  • Histidine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Skin / microbiology*
  • Urocanic Acid / metabolism*
  • cis-trans-Isomerases / metabolism*


  • Histidine
  • cis-trans-Isomerases
  • cis-urocanic acid isomerase
  • Urocanic Acid