Ultrastructural observations on the effect of azelaic acid on normal human melanocytes and a human melanoma cell line in tissue culture

E. J. Robins, A. S. Breathnach, D. Bennett, B. J. Ward, Y. Bhasin, L. Ethridge, M. Nazzaro-Porro, S. Passi, M. Picardo

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Azelaic acid has been shown clinically to have a cytotoxic effect on the abnormally active and malignant human melanocyte, but it has no apparent effect upon normal melanocytes. This difference in reactivity between normal and abnormal cells in vivo is further examined here in vitro. The disodium salt of azelaic acid (C92Na) was added to pure and mixed cultures of normal human melanocytes and to cultured human melanoma cells, at 10-3 M, 10-2 M, 5 x 10-2 M, and 10-1 M for 1 and 6 h. Control cultures and cultures exposed to the same concentrations of the disodium salt of adipic acid (C62Na) were also examined. No damage to cells of any line was observed with diacids at 10-3 M or 10-2 M up to 6 h. At 5 x 10-2 M some mitochondria of melanoma cells appeared swollen. With C62Na at 10-1 M for 1 and 6 h, minimal swelling of mitochondria was observed in some cells of all lines. Pure normal melanocytes and melanocytes of mixed cultures exhibited greater swelling of mitochondria with 10-1 M C92Na at 1 and 6 h, but the mitochondria of the malignant melanocytes were massively swollen with destruction of cristae. Plasma and nuclear membranes and membranes of rough endoplasmic reticulum were intact, but Golgi membranes exhibited vesiculation. These results provide further evidence that azelaic acid damages the human malignant melanocyte and that one of its targets is the mitochondrion. Damage to normal melanocytes, found here, may be due to the fact that, in culture, they are more active than in intact epidermis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-697
Number of pages11
JournalBritish Journal of Dermatology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dermatology


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