A possible mechanism of action for azelaic acid in the human epidermis

Arch Dermatol Res. 1990;282(3):168-71. doi: 10.1007/BF00372617.


Azelaic acid, and other saturated dicarboxylic acids (C9-C12), are shown to be competitive inhibitors of tyrosinase (KI azelaic acid = 2.73 X 10(-3) M) and of membrane-associated thioredoxin reductase (KI azelaic acid = 1.25 X 10(-5) M). The monomethyl ester of azelaic acid does not inhibit thioredoxin reductase, but it does inhibit tyrosinase, although double the concentration is necessary compared with azelaic acid (KI azelaic acid monomethyl ester = 5.24 X 10(-3) M). Neither azelaic acid nor its monomethyl ester inhibit tyrosinase when catechol is used as a substrate instead of L-tyrosine. Therefore, the weak inhibitory action of azelaic acid on tyrosinase appears to be due to the competition of a single carboxylate group on this inhibitor for the alpha-carboxylate binding site of the L-tyrosine substrate on the enzyme active site. Based on the inhibitor constant on tyrosinase, at least cytotoxic levels of azelaic acid would be required for the direct inhibition of melanin biosynthesis in melanosomes if this mechanism is responsible for depigmentation in the hyperpigmentation disorders lentigo maligna and melasma. Alternatively only 10(-5) M azelaic acid is required to inhibit thioredoxin reductase. This enzyme is shown to regulate tyrosinase through a feedback mechanism involving electron transfer to intracellular thioredoxin, followed by a specific interaction between reduced thioredoxin and tyrosinase. Furthermore, the thioredoxin reductase/thioredoxin system is shown to be a principal electron donor for the ribonucleotide reductases which regulates DNA synthesis.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cells, Cultured
  • DNA / biosynthesis
  • Dermatologic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Dicarboxylic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Epidermis / drug effects*
  • Epidermis / enzymology
  • Epidermis / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • Pigmentation / drug effects
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase / metabolism


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Dicarboxylic Acids
  • DNA
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase
  • azelaic acid