Autophagy regulates cellular turnover by disassembling unnecessary or dysfunctional constituents. Recent studies demonstrated that autophagy and its regulators play a wide variety of roles in melanocyte biology. Activation of autophagy is known to induce melanogenesis and regulate melanosome biogenesis in melanocytes. Also, autophagy induction was reported to regulate physiologic skin color via melanosome degradation, although the downstream effectors are not yet clarified. To determine the role of autophagy as a melanosome degradation machinery, we administered several autophagy inducers in human keratinocytes and melanocytes. Our results showed that the synthetic autophagy inducer PTPD-12 stimulated autophagic flux in human melanocytes and in keratinocytes containing transferred melanosomes. Increased autophagic flux led to melanosome degradation without affecting the expression of MITF. Furthermore, the color of cell pellets of both melanocytes and keratinocytes was visibly lightened. Inhibition of autophagic flux by chloroquine resulted in marked attenuation of PTPD-12-induced melanosome degradation, whereas the expression of melanogenesis pathway genes and proteins remained unaffected. Taken together, our results suggest that the modulation of autophagy can contribute to the regulation of melanocyte biology and skin pigmentation.
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