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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 1994 May;49(1):9-14.

Effects of estrogens on human melanocytes in vitro.

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Department of Physiology, University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


Subjects with elevated serum estrogen concentrations, such as those who are pregnant or ingesting estrogen-containing contraceptive medication, may develop increased skin pigmentation. As little information is available on the mechanism(s) underlying this relationship, the in vitro effects of estrogens on melanocytes cultured from normal human skin were examined. Physiological concentrations of 17 beta-estradiol (10(-11) to 10(-9) M) significantly increased the activity of tyrosinase in melanocytes from 15 of 23 subjects. The observed increases ranged from 1.2- to 2.4-fold. Melanin synthesis, which correlated with tyrosinase activity (r = 0.98, P < 0.001) was increased to a similar extent. Melanin extrusion was also increased by 17 beta-estradiol (10(-9) M). The estrogens, estriol (10(-9) M) and estrone (10(-9) M) stimulated tyrosinase activity and melanin extrusion to a lesser extent than 17 beta-estradiol. The analogue 17 alpha-estradiol (10(-9) M) was shown to have effects on melanocyte tyrosinase activity and melanin extrusion that were equivalent to those of 17 beta-estradiol. The pure estrogen antagonist ICI 164384 (10(-6) M) also stimulated tyrosinase activity. Cycloheximide (50 micrograms/ml) inhibited 17 beta-estradiol-induced tyrosinase stimulation (P < 0.001). These results indicate that several aspects of melanocyte function respond directly to estrogenic stimulation. The equivalent effects of the 17 alpha-analogue and a "pure" anti-estrogen suggest that the 17 beta-estradiol response may be mediated through a non-classical mechanism which is similar to that described in other tissues of neural crest origin.

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