Mechanism of tyrosinase inhibition by deoxyArbutin and its second-generation derivatives

Br J Dermatol. 2008 Dec;159(6):1267-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2008.08864.x. Epub 2008 Sep 20.


Background: Disorders, such as age spots, melasma and hyperpigmentation at sites of actinic damage, emanate from the augmentation of an increased amount of epidermal melanin.

Objectives: The ineptness of current therapies in treating these conditions, as well as high cytotoxicity, mutagenicity, poor skin penetration and low stability of skin-depigmenting formulations led us to investigate new compounds that meet the medical requirements for depigmentation agents. We have shown previously that the tyrosinase inhibitor deoxyArbutin (dA) is a more effective and less toxic skin lightener than hydroquinone (HQ).

Methods: The efficacy and reversibility of dA and its derivatives on inhibiting tyrosine hydroxylase and DOPAoxidase was assessed using standard assays.

Results: dA and its second-generation derivatives inhibit tyrosine hydroxylase and DOPAoxidase activities of tyrosinase dose dependently thereby inhibiting melanin synthesis in intact melanocytes, when used at concentrations that retain 95% cell viability in culture. This depigmenting effect was completely reversible when the compounds were removed. Tyrosinase inhibition was also observed in vitro when tested using human and purified mushroom tyrosinase, establishing that they are direct enzyme inhibitors. Lineweaver-Burk reciprocal plot analysis using mushroom tyrosinase illustrated that dA and its derivatives are more robust competitive inhibitors than HQ, when tyrosine is used as substrate.

Conclusions: Thus, dA and its second-generation derivatives, which inhibit melanogenesis at safe concentrations by specifically acting on the tyrosinase enzyme at a post-translational level, are promising agents to ameliorate hyperpigmented lesions or lighten skin.

MeSH terms

  • Arbutin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Arbutin / pharmacology
  • Dopamine Agents / analysis
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Hyperpigmentation / drug therapy*
  • Hyperpigmentation / enzymology
  • Melanocytes / drug effects*
  • Melanocytes / enzymology
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism*


  • Dopamine Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Arbutin
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase
  • deoxyarbutin