Skin cells and tissue are capable of using L-ergothioneine as an integral component of their antioxidant defense system

Free Radic Biol Med. 2009 Apr 15;46(8):1168-76. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2009.01.021. Epub 2009 Feb 3.


The cellular defense system against harmful levels of reactive oxygen species consists of antioxidant enzymatic activities and small nonenzymatic molecules. L-ergothioneine has long been recognized as a potent and stable low-molecular-weight antioxidant that humans consume with diet and that accumulates in cells normally subjected to high levels of oxidative stress. As L-ergothioneine is plasma membrane-impermeative, its protective function is restricted to cells that express the L-ergothioneine-specific receptor/transporter OCTN1. Here we report for the first time that both as resident skin cells and in culture, epidermal keratinocytes synthesize OCTN1, which enables them to internalize and accumulate L-ergothioneine. This accumulation confers upon the cells an increased antioxidant potential. Consequently, it reduces the levels of reactive oxygen species and DNA, protein, and lipid damage in keratinocytes subjected to solar-simulating UV oxidative stress. Our results suggest that L-ergothioneine not only prevents oxidative damage but also may enable DNA repair in the UV-irradiated cells. The diminished oxidative damage to cellular constituents limits the apoptotic response and results in increased cell viability. The cells' ability to take up, accumulate, and utilize the potent antioxidant L-ergothioneine positions this naturally occurring amino acid and its receptor/transporter as an integral part of the antioxidative defense system of the skin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Apoptosis / radiation effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytoprotection / drug effects
  • Cytoprotection / physiology
  • Cytoprotection / radiation effects
  • Ergothioneine / pharmacology*
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / pathology
  • Fibroblasts / physiology*
  • Foreskin / pathology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Keratinocytes / drug effects
  • Keratinocytes / pathology
  • Keratinocytes / physiology*
  • Male
  • Organic Cation Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Organic Cation Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Protein Transport
  • Radiation Injuries
  • Symporters


  • Antioxidants
  • Organic Cation Transport Proteins
  • SLC22A4 protein, human
  • Symporters
  • Ergothioneine