Researchers identify cellular basis for how anti-aging costmetics work

Aug 13, 2012

A team of investigators from UC Davis and Peking University have discovered a mechanism that may explain how alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs) -- the key ingredient in cosmetic chemical peels and wrinkle-reducing creams -- work to enhance skin appearance. An understanding of the underlying process may lead to better cosmetic formulations as well as have medical applications.

The findings were published in the in an article entitled "Intracellular proton-mediated activation of TRPV3 channels accounts for exfoliation effect of alpha hydroxyl acids on keratinocytes."

AHAs are a group of weak acids typically derived from natural sources such as sugar cane, sour milk, apples and citrus that are well known in the cosmetics industry for their ability to enhance the appearance and texture of skin. Before this research, little was known about how AHAs actually caused skin to flake off and expose fresh, underlying skin.

The cellular pathway the research team studied focuses on an ion channel -- known as transient receptor potential vanilloid 3 (TRPV3) -- located in the of keratinocytes, the predominant cell type in the outer layer of skin. The channel is known from other studies to play an important role in normal skin physiology and .

In a series of experiments that involved recording electrical currents across exposed to AHAs, the investigators developed a model that describes how glycolic acid (the smallest and most biologically available AHA) enters into keratinocytes and generates free protons, creating within the cell. The low pH strongly activates the TRPV3 ion channel, opening it and allowing to flow into the cell. Because more protons also enter through the open TRPV3 channel, the process feeds on itself. The resulting calcium ion overload in the cell leads to its death and skin exfoliation.

"Our experiments are the first to show that the TRPV3 is likely to be the target of the most effective skin enhancer in the cosmetics industry," said Jie Zheng, professor of physiology and membrane biology at UC Davis and one of the principal investigators of the study. "Although AHAs have been used for years, no one until now understood their likely mechanism of action."

Besides being found in skin cells, TRPV3 also is found in cells in many areas of the nervous system and is sensitive to temperature as well as acidity. The authors speculate that the channel may have a variety of important physiological functions, including pain control.

Lead author Xu Cao, who conducted the study with UC Davis scientists as a visiting student from Peking University Health Science Center, focuses on TRPV3 channel research. With a team of researchers in China, he recently contributed to the discovery that a mutation in TRPV3 leads to Olmsted syndrome, a rare congenital disorder characterized by severe itching and horny skin development over the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. While in the UC Davis Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology, Cao discovered that AHAs also utilize the TRPV3 channel.

"Calcium channels are becoming increasingly recognized as having vital functions in skin physiology," said Cao. "TRPV3 has the potential to become an important target not only for the cosmetics industry but for analgesia and treating disease."

The other study author and co-principal investigator is KeWei Wang of Peking University School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, where the research was conducted.

Explore further: Structure of sodium channels different than previously believed

Related Stories

A warm sensor maintains skin barrier

May 14, 2010

Japanese research group led by Prof. Makoto Tominaga and Dr. Takaaki Sokabe (National Institute for Physiological Sciences: NIPS) found that TRPV4 ion channel in skin keratinocytes is important for formation and maintenance ...

ATP is a key to feel warm temperature

Oct 08, 2009

A Japanese research group led by Prof. Makoto Tominaga and Dr. Sravan Mandadi (National Institute for Physiological Sciences: NIPS) found that ATP plays a key role in transmitting temperature information from skin keratinocytes ...

Recommended for you

Breakthrough points to new drugs from nature

Apr 16, 2014

Researchers at Griffith University's Eskitis Institute have developed a new technique for discovering natural compounds which could form the basis of novel therapeutic drugs.

World's first successful visualisation of key coenzyme

Apr 16, 2014

Japanese researchers have successfully developed the world's first imaging method for visualising the behaviour of nicotine-adenine dinucleotide derivative (NAD(P)H), a key coenzyme, inside cells. This feat ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...