Background: Kojic acid is a fungal metabolite widely used in medicinal and cosmetic formulations as a skin-lightening agent based on its de-pigmenting activity. Although in human clinical studies kojic acid has been shown to be effective in the treatment of hyper-pigmentation disorders such as melasma, the reasons for its apparent lack of anti-melanogenic activity in cultured mammalian melanocytes are unclear.
Objectives: This study was aimed to elucidate pharmacological mechanisms of the in vivo anti-melanogenic activity of kojic acid in human skin.
Methods: A primary human melanocyte and keratinocyte co-culture system was used to evaluate whether kojic-acid-induced changes in keratinocytes were associated with anti-melanogenic activities in melanocytes. The cytokine secretion profiles in response to kojic acid were analyzed.
Results: Kojic acid increased interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8 production in melanocyte/keratinocyte co-cultures; however, IL-6 directly inhibited melanogenesis whereas IL-8 did not. In melanocyte monocultures, kojic acid did not increase IL-6 production whereas in keratinocyte monocultures it significantly up-regulated IL-6 gene and protein expression. Therefore, the up-regulation of IL-6 in melanocyte/keratinocyte co-cultures seems to be originated from kojic acid-induced changes in keratinocytes. Anti-IL-6 antibody treatment antagonized the anti-melanogenic effect of kojic acid on the co-cultures.
Conclusions: The pharmacological mechanism of kojic acid to explain clinically effective anti-melanogenic activity on hyper-pigmented skin is associated with the kojic acid-induced IL-6 production in keratinocytes. The cross-talk between melanocytes and keratinocytes should be determined in future studies on the pharmacological mechanisms of clinically effective dermatological drugs acting on the epidermis.
Copyright © 2012 Japanese Society for Investigative Dermatology. Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.