Malassezia yeasts produce a collection of exceptionally potent activators of the Ah (dioxin) receptor detected in diseased human skin

J Invest Dermatol. 2013 Aug;133(8):2023-30. doi: 10.1038/jid.2013.92. Epub 2013 Feb 28.


Malassezia yeasts are commensal microorganisms, which under insufficiently understood conditions can become pathogenic. We have previously shown that specific strains isolated from diseased human skin can preferentially produce agonists of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), whose activation has been linked to certain skin diseases. Investigation of skin scale extracts from patients with Malassezia-associated diseases demonstrated 10- to 1,000-fold higher AhR-activating capacity than control skin extracts. Liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry analysis of the patients' extracts revealed the presence of indirubin, 6-formylindolo[3,2-b]carbazole (FICZ), indolo[3,2-b]carbazole (ICZ), malassezin, and pityriacitrin. The same compounds were also identified in 9 out of 12 Malassezia species culture extracts tested, connecting their presence in skin scales with this yeast. Studying the activity of the Malassezia culture extracts and pure metabolites in HaCaT cells by reverse transcriptase real-time PCR revealed significant alterations in mRNA levels of the endogenous AhR-responsive genes Cyp1A1, Cyp1B1, and AhRR. Indirubin- and FICZ-activated AhR in HaCaT and human HepG2 cells with significantly higher, yet transient, potency as compared with the prototypical AhR ligand, dioxin. In loco synthesis of these highly potent AhR inducers by Malassezia yeasts could have a significant impact on skin homeostatic mechanisms and disease development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular
  • Cell Extracts
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / genetics
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / metabolism
  • Dermatomycoses / metabolism
  • Dermatomycoses / microbiology*
  • Dermatomycoses / pathology
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Indoles / metabolism
  • Keratinocytes / cytology
  • Keratinocytes / microbiology
  • Liver Neoplasms
  • Malassezia / growth & development*
  • Malassezia / isolation & purification
  • Malassezia / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism*
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / microbiology*


  • Cell Extracts
  • Indoles
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • malassezin
  • CYP1A1 protein, human
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1
  • indirubin