Recent studies have shown that plumbagin has anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, antibacterial, and anti-cancer activities; however, it has not yet been shown whether plumbagin suppresses alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH)-induced melanin synthesis to prevent hyperpigmentation. In this study, we demonstrated that plumbagin significantly suppresses α-MSH-stimulated melanin synthesis in B16F10 mouse melanoma cells. To understand the inhibitory mechanism of plumbagin on melanin synthesis, we performed cellular or cell-free tyrosinase activity assays and analyzed melanogenesis-related gene expression. We demonstrated that plumbagin directly suppresses tyrosinase activity independent of the transcriptional machinery associated with melanogenesis, which includes micropthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF
), tyrosinase (TYR
), and tyrosinase-related protein 1 (TYRP1
). We also investigated whether plumbagin was toxic to normal human keratinocytes (HaCaT) and lens epithelial cells (B3) that may be injured by using skin-care cosmetics. Surprisingly, lower plumbagin concentrations (0.5–1 μM) effectively inhibited melanin synthesis and tyrosinase activity but do not cause toxicity in keratinocytes, lens epithelial cells, and B16F10 mouse melanoma cells, suggesting that plumbagin is safe for dermal application. Taken together, these results suggest that the inhibitory effect of plumbagin to pigmentation may make it an acceptable and safe component for use in skin-care cosmetic formulations used for skin whitening.
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