Research offers insights into how the drug isotretinoin treats acne

March 11, 2008

Penn State College of Medicine researchers are providing insight into how the most potent drug available for the treatment of acne, 13-cis retinoic acid, also known as isotretinoin, combats acne and its mechanisms.

Diane Thiboutot, professor of dermatology, and her colleagues analyzed skin biopsies from patients with acne before and after one week of treatment with 13-cis RA. They suggested these data might lead to the development of new treatments for acne, which are badly needed as the use of 13-cis RA is limited by its severe side effects. 

They published their findings in the article "Neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin mediates 13-cis retinoic acid-induced apoptosis of human sebaceous gland cells" in a recent issue (March 3) of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Initial analysis confirmed previous observations made using cultured cells that 13-cis RA induces a form of cell death known as apoptosis in sebaceous glands, the parts of the skin that are affected in individuals with acne. Further studies revealed that the gene responsible for making the protein NGAL was highly upregulated in human sebaceous glands by 13-cis RA.

As NGAL was found to mediate apoptosis of human sebaceous glands and to be essential for 13-cis RA to mediate apoptosis of human sebaceous glands, the resarchers suggested that agents that selectively induce NGAL expression in human sebaceous glands might provide a new approach to treating individuals with acne.

A PDF of the article is at:

Other Penn State medical researchers are Amanda M. Nelson, post-doctoral scholar, the Jake Gittlen Cancer Research Foundation; Wei Zhao, Department of Health Evaluation Sciences; Kathryn L. Gilliland, research support associate, the Jake Gittlen Cancer Research Foundation; Andrea L. Zaenglein, M.D., Department of Dermatology; and Wenlei Liu, Department of Health Evaluation Science.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009