From pathogenesis of acne vulgaris to anti-acne agents

  • Tian-Xin Cong
  • Dan Hao
  • Xiang Wen
  • Xiao-Hua Li
  • Gu He
  • Xian JiangEmail author


Acne vulgaris is a cutaneous chronic inflammatory disorder with complex pathogenesis. Four factors play vital roles in acne pathophysiology: hyperseborrhea and dysseborrhea, altered keratinization of the pilosebaceous duct, Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes) and inflammation. The main hormones responsible for the development of acne vulgaris include androgens, insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1. Other factors involved in this process are corticotropin-releasing hormone, α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone and substance P. Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway, phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt pathway, mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway, adenosine 5′-monophosphate-activated protein kinase pathway and nuclear factor kappa B pathway participate in the modulation of sebocyte, keratinocyte and inflammatory cell (e.g. lymphocytes, monocytes, macrophages, neutrophils) activity. Among all the triggers and pathways mentioned above, IGF-1-induced PI3K/Akt/Forkhead box protein O1/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) C1 pathway is the most important signaling responsible for acne pathogenesis. Commonly used anti-acne agents include retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics and hormonal agents (e.g. spironolactone, combination oral contraceptive and flutamide). New approaches including peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ modifier, melanocortin receptor antagonists, epigallocatechin-3-gallate, metformin, olumacostat glasaretil, stearoyl-CoA desaturase inhibitor omiganan pentahydrochloride, KDPT, afamelanotide, apremilast and biologics have been developed as promising treatments for acne vulgaris. Although these anti-acne agents have various pharmacological effects against the diverse pathogenesis of acne, all of them have a synergistic mode of action, the attenuation of Akt/mTORC1 signaling and enhancement of p53 signal transduction. In addition to drug therapy, diet with no hyperglycemic carbohydrates, no milk and dairy products is also beneficial for treatment of acne.


Acne Androgen Cutibacterium acnes Insulin-like growth factor Inflammation Comdogenesis Sebocyte Keratinocyte 



No funding was received.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

This review does not involve human participants; therefore, formal consent is not required.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Dermatology, West China HospitalSichuan UniversityChengduPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Biotherapy and Cancer Center, West China HospitalSichuan University and Collaborative Innovation Center for BiotherapyChengduPeople’s Republic of China

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