The nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (NRF2) antioxidant response promotes melanocyte viability and reduces toxicity of the vitiligo-inducing phenol monobenzone

Exp Dermatol. 2017 Jul;26(7):637-644. doi: 10.1111/exd.13350.


Vitiligo, characterised by progressive melanocyte death, can be initiated by exposure to vitiligo-inducing phenols (VIPs). VIPs generate oxidative stress in melanocytes and activate the master antioxidant regulator NRF2. While NRF2-regulated antioxidants are reported to protect melanocytes from oxidative stress, the role of NRF2 in the melanocyte response to monobenzone, a clinically relevant VIP, has not been characterised. We hypothesised that activation of NRF2 may protect melanocytes from monobenzone-induced toxicity. We observed that knockdown of NRF2 or NRF2-regulated antioxidants NQO1 and PRDX6 reduced melanocyte viability, but not viability of keratinocytes and fibroblasts, suggesting that melanocytes were preferentially dependent upon NRF2 activity for growth compared to other cutaneous cells. Furthermore, melanocytes activated the NRF2 response following monobenzone exposure and constitutive NRF2 activation reduced monobenzone toxicity, supporting NRF2's role in the melanocyte stress response. In contrast, melanocytes from individuals with vitiligo (vitiligo melanocytes) did not activate the NRF2 response as efficiently. Dimethyl fumarate-mediated NRF2 activation protected normal and vitiligo melanocytes against monobenzone-induced toxicity. Given the contribution of oxidant-antioxidant imbalance in vitiligo, modulation of this pathway may be of therapeutic interest.

Keywords: Dimethyl Fumarate; KEAP1; NQO1; depigmentation; monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival
  • Dimethyl Fumarate / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hydroquinones / toxicity*
  • Hypopigmentation
  • Melanocytes / cytology*
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone) / metabolism
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism*
  • Oxidants / pharmacology
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Peroxiredoxin VI / metabolism
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Vitiligo / chemically induced
  • Vitiligo / immunology*


  • Antioxidants
  • Hydroquinones
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • NFE2L2 protein, human
  • Oxidants
  • monobenzone
  • PRDX6 protein, human
  • Peroxiredoxin VI
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone)
  • NQO1 protein, human
  • Dimethyl Fumarate