Baicalein protects human vitiligo melanocytes from oxidative stress through activation of NF-E2-related factor2 (Nrf2) signaling pathway

Free Radic Biol Med. 2018 Dec;129:492-503. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2018.10.421. Epub 2018 Oct 18.


Vitiligo is a complex disorder characterized by patchy loss of skin pigmentation due to abnormal melanocyte function. Overwhelming evidences have suggested that oxidative stress plays a major role in the loss of melanocytes thereby mediating the onset and progression of vitiligo. The nuclear factor erythroid 2-like factor 2 (Nrf2) is a master regulator of cellular redox homeostasis and the activation of Nrf2 signaling pathway is impaired in the vitiligo melanocytes. Baicalein, as flavonoid extracted from the Scutellaria baicalensis, has been proved to possess the ability to activate Nrf2 signaling pathway in other cell types and mouse model. Our previous data found that baicalein exerts a cytoprotective role in H2O2-induced apoptosis in human melanocytes cell line (PIG1). Based on these founding, we hypothesized that baicalein activates Nrf2 signaling pathway, alleviates H2O2-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and cellular damage, thereby protecting human vitiligo melanocytes from oxidative stress. In the present study, we found that baicalein effectively inhibited H2O2-induced cytotoxicity and apoptosis in human vitiligo melanocytes (PIG3V). Further results demonstrated that baicalein promoted Nrf2 nucleus translocation as well as up-regulated the expression of Nrf2 and its target gene, heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1). Moreover, the protective effects of baicalein against H2O2-induced cellular damage and apoptosis as well as mitochondrial dysfunction were abolished by Nrf2 knockdown. Additionally, we observed that Nrf2 knockdown suppressed proliferation and increased the sensitivity of PIG3V cells to H2O2 treatment. Finally, we explored the mechanism of baicalein associated with Nrf2 activation and found that the phosphorylation of Nrf2 as well as ERK1/2and PI3K/AKT signaling were not involved in the baicalein-induced activation of Nrf2. Taken together, these data clearly suggest that baicalein enhances cellular antioxidant defense capacity of human vitiligo melanocytes through the activation of the Nrf2 signaling pathway, providing beneficial evidence for the application of baicalein in the vitiligo treatment.

Keywords: Baicalein; Melanocytes; Mitochondria; Nrf2; Vitiligo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / isolation & purification
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line
  • Flavanones / isolation & purification
  • Flavanones / pharmacology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Heme Oxygenase-1 / genetics
  • Heme Oxygenase-1 / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / pharmacology*
  • Melanocytes / drug effects*
  • Melanocytes / metabolism
  • Melanocytes / pathology
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1 / genetics
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1 / metabolism
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3 / genetics
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3 / metabolism
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / genetics*
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / genetics
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • Scutellaria baicalensis / chemistry
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Vitiligo / genetics
  • Vitiligo / metabolism
  • Vitiligo / pathology


  • Antioxidants
  • Flavanones
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • NFE2L2 protein, human
  • Plant Extracts
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • baicalein
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • HMOX1 protein, human
  • Heme Oxygenase-1
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • MAPK1 protein, human
  • MAPK3 protein, human
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3