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Skin Bacterium Secretes Protective Enzyme

A UNIQUE antioxidant enzyme released by one of the most common skin bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes, is believed to help protect humans from disease and skin damage, according to the results of a recent study. Current evidence suggests that the bacteria which make up the human microbiome are vital to our heath, producing some vitamins we do not have the genes to make, breaking down food, and teaching our immune system how to recognise pathogens.

Dr Rolf Lood, Department of Clinical Sciences, Lund University, Lund, Sweden, and colleagues found that P. acnes secretes an enzyme (RoxP) that protects against oxidative stress, a condition linked with the development of several skin diseases including atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and skin cancer. They conducted various experiments, featuring tests on human skin cultures, and found that RoxP reduced free radicals and protects molecules from oxidation. The authors believe RoxP is the first characterised bacterial extracellular enzyme with antioxidant activity, with antioxidant properties as strong as previously recognised antioxidants such as vitamins C and E.  Given that levels of P. acnes vary across individuals, the authors hypothesise that RoxP levels also varied, influencing levels of protection. Dr Lood noted “This protein is important for the bacterium’s very survival on our skin. The bacterium improves its living environment by secreting RoxP, but in doing so it also benefits us.

The study’s authors have several studies planned to further investigate the effects of RoxP, both in human patients and laboratory animals. A planned animal study will make a comparison of the effect of ultraviolet radiation exposure on mice treated with RoxP compared with untreated mice. There is also a planned human study examining the possible links between the levels of RoxP on patients’ skin and the degree of illness in basal cell carcinoma and actinic keratosis. It is hoped that positive results from these studies will eventually lead to RoxP’s inclusion in sunscreens and use in treatments for skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

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