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Free Radic Res Commun. 1992;16(1):51-64.

Ultraviolet light-induced generation of vitamin E radicals and their recycling. A possible photosensitizing effect of vitamin E in skin.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley 94720.


Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) is the major lipid-soluble chain-breaking antioxidant of membranes. Its UV-absorbance spectrum (lambda max 295 nm) extends well into the solar spectrum. We hypothesize that in skin alpha-tocopherol may absorb solar UV light and generate tocopheroxyl radicals. Reduction of tocopheroxyl radicals by other antioxidants (e.g. ascorbate, thiols) will regenerate (recycle) vitamin E at the expense of their own depletion. Hence, vitamin E in skin may act in two conflicting manners upon solar illumination: in addition to its antioxidant function as a peroxyl radical scavenger, it may act as an endogenous photosensitizer, enhancing light-induced oxidative damage. To test this hypothesis, we have illuminated various systems (methanol-buffer dispersions, liposomes and skin homogenates) containing alpha-tocopherol or its homologue with a shorter 6-carbon side chain, chromanol-alpha-C6 with UV light closely matching solar UV light, in the presence or absence of endogenous or exogenous reductants. We found that: (i) alpha-tocopheroxyl (chromanoxyl) radicals are directly generated by solar UV light in model systems (methanol-water dispersions, liposomes) and in skin homogenates; (ii) reducing antioxidants (ascorbate, ascorbate+dihydrolipoic acid) can donate electrons to alpha-tocopheroxyl (chromanoxyl) radicals providing for vitamin E (chromanol-alpha-C6) recycling; (iii) recycling of UV-induced alpha-tocopheroxyl radicals depletes endogenous antioxidant pools (accelerates ascorbate oxidation); (iv) beta-carotene, a non-reducing antioxidant, is not active in alpha-tocopherol recycling, and its UV-dependent depletion is unaffected by vitamin E.

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