-galactose (AHG), a major monomeric constituent of red macroalgae (Rhodophyta
), was recently reported to possess skin whitening activity. Moreover, AHG-containing oligosaccharides, such as agarooligosaccharides (AOSs) and neoagarooligosaccharides (NAOSs), have various physiological activities, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and skin moisturizing effects. In this study, AHG and NAOSs were produced from agarose by enzymatic reactions catalyzed by an endo-type β-agarase, an exo-type β-agarase, and a neoagarobiose hydrolase. In a cell proliferation assay, AHG, AOSs, and NAOSs at 12.5, 25, and 50 μg/mL concentrations did not exhibit cytotoxicity toward murine B16 melanoma cells or human epidermal melanocytes. In an in vitro skin whitening activity assay of AHG, AOSs, and NAOSs at 50 μg/mL, AHG showed the highest skin whitening activity in both murine B16 melanoma cells and human epidermal melanocytes; this activity was mediated by the inhibition of melanogenesis. Neoagarotetraose and neoagarohexaose also exhibited in vitro skin whitening activity, whereas neoagarobiose and AOSs with degrees of polymerization of 3 (agarotriose), 5 (agaropentaose), and 7 (agaroheptaose) did not. Therefore, AHG is responsible for the skin whitening activity of agar-derived sugars, and the structural differences among the AHG-containing oligosaccharides may be responsible for their different skin whitening activities.
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