Topical agents protect deep skin from UVA-related photo-aging

Early research suggests that two hydrogen sulphide-producing medications could help prevent sun-related skin aging.


In a press release from the University of Exeter in Devon, England, the researchers explain that the two molecules—known as AP39 and AP123—prevent the production of collagenase in the deep skin by cells stressed by ultraviolet-A (UVA) exposure.


“The compounds AP39 and AP123 specifically target the energy-generating machinery inside our cells, the mitochondria, and supply them with minute quantities of alternative fuel, hydrogen sulphide, to use when skin cells are stressed by UVA,” said co-senior author Dr. Uraiwan Panich, in the release. “The direct result of this was the activation of two protective mechanisms. One is a protein called PGC-1α, which controls [the] mitochondria number inside cells and regulates energy balance. The other is Nrf2, which turns on a set of protective genes that mitigate UVA damage to skin and turn off the production of collagenase, the main enzyme that breaks down collagen in damaged skin tissue and causes skin to look significantly more ‘aged’.”

Dr. Panich is an associate professor in the faculty of medicine, Siriraj Hospital at Mahidol University in Bangkok.


The paper was published online ahead of print in Antioxidants & Redox Signaling (July 8, 2021).


To investigate the potential of these two molecules, the researchers evaluated their impact on UVA-induced photo-aging in normal human dermal fibroblasts in vitro and the skin of mouse models.

In the release, Matt Whiteman, PhD, of the University of Exeter Medical School, a co-senior author on the paper added: “Some skin sun creams and cosmetics contain ingredients thought to protect mitochondria from UV radiation. However, it isn’t clear that these cosmetic skin-applied substances get inside skin cells at all, whereas we found that our molecules penetrate cells and specifically target mitochondria where they are needed.”


“By protecting mitochondria, we also preserve and up-regulate the protective mechanisms by which mitochondria control inflammation, protect cells and prevent tissue destruction. Currently, we have no way of reversing or delaying skin aging caused by sunlight exposure. Our results are a really exciting step towards that goal, and could one day help reduce age-related skin conditions, as well as be useful in other conditions resulting from the aging process,” he said.


The authors note that other research has shown these molecules can reduce skin inflammation and skin damage after burn injury and atopic dermatitis.

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