Tyrosinase inhibition due to interaction of homocyst(e)ine with copper: the mechanism for reversible hypopigmentation in homocystinuria due to cystathionine beta-synthase deficiency

Am J Hum Genet. 1995 Jul;57(1):127-32.


Deficiency of cystathionine beta-synthase (CBS) is a genetic disorder of transsulfuration resulting in elevated plasma homocyst(e)ine and methionine and decreased cysteine. Affected patients have multisystem involvement, which may include light skin and hair. Reversible hypopigmentation in treated homocystinuric patients has been infrequently reported, and the mechanism is undefined. Two CBS-deficient homocystinuric patients manifested darkening of their hypopigmented hair following treatment that decreased plasma homocyst(e)ine. We hypothesized that homocyst(e)ine inhibits tyrosinase, the major pigment enzyme. The activity of tyrosinase extracted from pigmented human melanoma cells (MNT-1) that were grown in the presence of homocysteine was reduced in comparison to that extracted from cells grown without homocysteine. Copper sulfate restored homocyst(e)ine-inhibited tyrosinase activity when added to the culture cell media at a proportion of 1.25 mol of copper sulfate per 1 mol of DL-homocysteine. Holo-tyrosinase activity was inhibited by adding DL-homocysteine to the assay reaction mixture, and the addition of copper sulfate to the reaction mixture prevented this inhibition. Other tested compounds, L-cystine and betaine did not affect tyrosinase activity. Our data suggest that reversible hypopigmentation in homocystinuria is the result of tyrosinase inhibition by homocyst(e)ine and that the probable mechanism of this inhibition is the interaction of homocyst(e)ine with copper at the active site of tyrosinase.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Copper / metabolism*
  • Cystathionine beta-Synthase / deficiency*
  • Cystathionine beta-Synthase / genetics
  • Drug Interactions
  • Female
  • Hair Color / genetics
  • Homocysteine / metabolism*
  • Homocystinuria / etiology
  • Homocystinuria / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Hypopigmentation / genetics*
  • Hypopigmentation / physiopathology
  • Melanoma / genetics
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Homocysteine
  • Copper
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase
  • Cystathionine beta-Synthase