Cell Stress and Chaperones

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 309–322 | Cite as

The topical antimicrobial zinc pyrithione is a heat shock response inducer that causes DNA damage and PARP-dependent energy crisis in human skin cells

  • Sarah D. Lamore
  • Christopher M. Cabello
  • Georg T. Wondrak
Original Paper


The differentiated epidermis of human skin serves as an essential barrier against environmental insults from physical, chemical, and biological sources. Zinc pyrithione (ZnPT) is an FDA-approved microbicidal agent used worldwide in clinical antiseptic products, over-the-counter topical antimicrobials, and cosmetic consumer products including antidandruff shampoos. Here we demonstrate for the first time that cultured primary human skin keratinocytes and melanocytes display an exquisite vulnerability to nanomolar concentrations of ZnPT resulting in pronounced induction of heat shock response gene expression and impaired genomic integrity. In keratinocytes treated with nanomolar concentrations of ZnPT, expression array analysis revealed massive upregulation of genes encoding heat shock proteins (HSPA6, HSPA1A, HSPB5, HMOX1, HSPA1L, and DNAJA1) further confirmed by immunodetection. Moreover, ZnPT treatment induced rapid depletion of cellular ATP levels and formation of poly(ADP-ribose) polymers. Consistent with an involvement of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) in ZnPT-induced energy crisis, ATP depletion could be antagonized by pharmacological inhibition of PARP. This result was independently confirmed using PARP-1 knockout mouse embryonic fibroblasts that were resistant to ATP depletion and cytotoxicity resulting from ZnPT exposure. In keratinocytes and melanocytes, single-cell gel electrophoresis and flow cytometric detection of γ-H2A.X revealed rapid induction of DNA damage in response to ZnPT detectable before general loss of cell viability occurred through caspase-independent pathways. Combined with earlier experimental evidence that documents penetration of ZnPT through mammalian skin, our findings raise the possibility that this topical antimicrobial may target and compromise keratinocytes and melanocytes in intact human skin.


Zinc pyrithione Keratinocyte Melanocyte Comet assay Heat shock response PARP-dependent ATP depletion 







Fluorescein isothiocyanate


Diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid


Early growth response protein 1




Human epidermal keratinocyte


Human epidermal melanocyte


Heme oxygenase 1


Heat shock protein


Mouse embryonal fibroblast






Poly(ADP-ribose) polymer


Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase


Propidium iodide


Sodium dodecylsulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis


Zinc pyrithione



Supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health (Award Number R01CA122484 from the National Cancer Institute, ES007091, ES06694, Arizona Cancer Center Support Grant CA023074), NSF (DGE-0114420 to CMC), and the Arizona Science Foundation (to SL). The content is solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Cancer Institute or the National Institutes of Health.


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Copyright information

© Cell Stress Society International 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah D. Lamore
    • 1
  • Christopher M. Cabello
    • 1
  • Georg T. Wondrak
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of Pharmacy, Arizona Cancer CenterUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.College of Pharmacy & Arizona Cancer CenterUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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