Hair depigmentation is a biological readout for pharmacological inhibition of KIT in mice and humans

J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2003 Nov;307(2):476-80. doi: 10.1124/jpet.103.052530. Epub 2003 Sep 9.


Deregulated activation of the KIT receptor tyrosine kinase has been implicated in several human cancers and in inflammation, making it an attractive target for therapeutic intervention. Conversely, deficiencies in KIT signaling have been implicated in human and animal hair pigmentation disorders, reflecting a role for KIT in the development and function of melanocytes. The goal of this study was to explore the potential utility of hair depigmentation as a biological readout for systemic inhibition of KIT by SU11248 5-[5-fluoro-2-oxo-1,2-dihydroindol-(3Z)-ylidenemethyl]-2,4-dimethyl-1H-pyrrole-3-carboxylic acid (2-diethylaminoethyl)amide), an oral multitargeted tyrosine kinase inhibitor with antitumor and antiangiogenic activity through targeting platelet-derived growth factor receptors, vascular endothelial growth factor receptors, KIT, and FLT3. Oral SU11248 treatment induced dose-dependent depigmentation of newly regrown hair in depilated C57BL/6 mice. Similar effects were seen after administration of a KIT-neutralizing antibody. SU11248-induced hair depigmentation was reversible with cessation of treatment. Histological and immunohistochemical evaluation of mouse skin samples supported these observations and revealed that SU11248 has no effect on levels of KIT-positive melanocytes associated with hair follicles, indicating that the inhibitory effect is at the level of melanocyte function rather than their development/survival. Similar hair depigmentation has been noted in several cancer patients receiving SU11248 in phase I trials. Strikingly, patient scalp hair exhibits bands of depigmentation and pigmentation that correspond, respectively, to periods of treatment and dosing rest periods. These data demonstrate that hair pigmentation can serve as a dose-dependent, dynamic, biological readout for KIT inhibition in mice, and, apparently, in humans.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Hair Color / drug effects*
  • Hair Color / physiology
  • Humans
  • Indoles / pharmacology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit / metabolism*
  • Pyrroles / pharmacology*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Sunitinib


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Indoles
  • Pyrroles
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Sunitinib