Coumestrol Down-Regulates Melanin Production in Melan-a Murine Melanocytes through Degradation of Tyrosinase

Jeong Ah Hwang, Nok Hyun Park, Yong Joo Na, Hae Kwang Lee, John Hwan Lee, Yong Jin Kim, and Chang Seok Lee

Pigmentation reflects skin darkening caused by melanin production, but excessive melanin synthesis may cause problems, such as melasma, solar lentigo, dark spots, and freckles. Considerable effort has been devoted to alleviating these undesired symptoms through the development of safe and effective depigmenting agents. Coumestrol, a plant-derived natural isoflavone with an estrogen-like structure and actions, is known to have anti-aging ability, but its potential depigmenting efficacy has not been evaluated. In the present study, we investigated the effects of coumestrol on melanin synthesis in normal melan-a murine melanocytes. Coumestrol significantly reduced melanin synthesis in a concentration-dependent manner up to a concentration of 25 µM without causing cytotoxicity. It also brightened tissue in an artificial skin model (MelanoDerm) that incorporates both human keratinocytes and melanocytes. Interestingly, although coumestrol did not inhibit tyrosinase activity or transcript level in melan-a cells, it clearly decreased the expression level of tyrosinase protein at a concentration of 25 µM. This coumestrol-induced reduction in tyrosinase protein levels was prevented by pretreatment with the proteasome inhibitor MG-132 or the lysosomal proteolysis inhibitor chloroquine. Collectively, our findings indicate that coumestrol exerts an inhibitory effect on melanin synthesis in melan-a cells, at least in part, through degradation of tyrosinase. These findings suggest that coumestrol is a good candidate for use in depigmentary reagents from a cosmetic and clinical perspective.


lightness factor, L* value, skin color, skin brightness, MelanoDerm (MEL-300-B), melanin synthesis, phytoestrogen, tyrosinase

Materials Tested

coumestrol, isoflavone, kojic acid

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