Hydroquinone (HQ) is a chemical compound that inhibits the functions of melanocytes and has long been known for its skin-whitening effect. According to previous studies, the Tyrosinase (Tyr) activity inhibitory effect and melanocyte-specific cell toxicity are known depigmenting mechanisms; however, details of the underlying mechanisms are unknown. Arbutin (Arb) is also known for its Tyr activity inhibitory effect and is commonly used as a skin-whitening agent. However, the detailed depigmenting mechanism of Arb is also not yet fully understood. Few studies have attempted to elucidate the effects of HQ and Arb on undifferentiated melanocytes. In this study, we examined the effects of HQ and Arb throughout each stage of differentiation of melanocytes using a mouse embryonic stem cell (ESC) culture system to induce melanocytes. The results showed that HQ in particular downregulated the early stage of differentiation, in which neural crest cells were generated, and the late stage of differentiation, in which melanogenesis became active. On the other hand, Arb had no effect on the differentiation of melanocytes, and only suppressed melanogenesis by specifically suppressing elevations in Tyr expression in the late stage of differentiation.
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