13-cis retinoic acid (13-cis RA; also known as isotretinoin) is the most potent agent available for treatment of acne. It is known that the drug induces apoptosis in cells cultured from human sebaceous glands, but its mechanism of action has not been determined. In this study, skin biopsies were taken from 7 patients with acne prior to and at 1 week of treatment with 13-cis RA. TUNEL staining confirmed that 13-cis RA induced apoptosis in sebaceous glands. Transcriptional profiling of patient skin and cultured human sebaceous gland cells (SEB-1 sebocytes) indicated that lipocalin 2 was among the genes most highly upregulated by 13-cis RA. Lipocalin 2 encodes neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin (NGAL), which functions in innate immune defense and induces apoptosis of murine B lymphocytes. Increased immunolocalization of NGAL was noted in patients' sebaceous glands following treatment with 13-cis RA, and recombinant NGAL induced apoptosis in SEB-1 sebocytes. Furthermore, apoptosis in response to 13-cis RA was inhibited in the presence of siRNA to lipocalin 2. These data indicate that NGAL mediates the apoptotic effect of 13-cis RA and suggest that agents that selectively induce NGAL expression in sebaceous glands might represent therapeutic alternatives to the use of 13-cis RA to treat individuals with acne.
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