Inhibition of melanogenesis by the pyridinyl imidazole class of compounds: Possible involvement of the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway

Barbara Bellei, Angela Pitisci, Enzo Izzo, Mauro Picardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While investigating the role of p38 MAPK in regulating melanogenesis, we found that pyridinyl imidazole inhibitors class compounds as well as the analog compound SB202474, which does not inhibit p38 MAPK, suppressed both α-MSH-induced melanogenesis and spontaneous melanin synthesis. In this study, we demonstrated that the inhibitory activity of the pyridinyl imidazoles correlates with inhibition of the canonical Wnt/β-catenin pathway activity. Imidazole-treated cells showed a reduction in the level of Tcf/Lef target genes involved in the β-catenin signaling network, including ubiquitous genes such as Axin2, Lef1, and Wisp1 as well as cell lineage-restricted genes such as microphthalmia-associated transcription factor and dopachrome tautomerase. Although over-expression of the Wnt signaling pathway effector β-catenin slightly restored the melanogenic program, the lack of complete reversion suggested that the imidazoles interfered with β-catenin-dependent transcriptional activity rather than with β-catenin expression. Accordingly, we did not observe any significant change in β-catenin protein expression. The independence of p38 MAPK activity from the repression of Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway was confirmed by small interfering RNA knockdown of p38 MAPK expression, which by contrast, stimulated β-catenin-driven gene expression. Our data demonstrate that the small molecule pyridinyl imidazoles possess two distinct and opposite mechanisms that modulate β-catenin dependent transcription: a p38 inhibition-dependent effect that stimulates the Wnt pathway by increasing β-catenin protein expression and an off-target mechanism that inhibits the pathway by repressing β-catenin protein functionality. The p38-independent effect seems to be dominant and, at least in B16-F0 cells, results in a strong block of the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere33021
JournalPLoS One
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 13 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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