Glutathione in its reduced form (GSH) is an antioxidant and also is involved in pheomelanin formation. Thus, it has been long believed that GSH has a skin whitening effect. However, its actual or direct effect is unproven. We evaluated the anti-melanogenic effects of GSH and its derivatives in vitro
. We examined change of melanogenesis and its related proteins by GSH itself and its derivatives, including GSH monoethyl ester (GSH-MEE), GSH diethyl ester (GSH-DEE) and GSH monoisopropyl ester (GSH-MIPE) in Melan-A cells, Mel-Ab cells, and B16F10 cells. GSH and GSH-MEE did not display cytotoxic activity, but GSH-MIPE and GSH-DEE did. Intriguingly, GSH itself had no inhibitory effect on melanin production or intracellular tyrosinase activity. Rather, it was GSH-MEE and GSH-MIPE that profoundly reduced the amount of melanin and intracellular tyrosinase activity. Thus, GSH-MEE was selected as a suitable candidate skin-whitening agent and it did not alter melanogenesis-associated proteins such as microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF), tyrosinase, tyrosinase-related protein (TRP)-1, and TRP-2, but it did increase the amount of suggested pheomelanin and suggested pheomelanin/eumelanin ratio. GSH-MEE was effective for anti-melanogenesis, whereas GSH itself was not. GSH-MEE could be developed as a safe and efficient agent for the treatment of hyperpigmentation skin disorders.
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