Theophylline exerts complex anti-ageing and anti-cytotoxicity effects in human skin ex vivo

M. Bertolini, Y. Ramot, J. Gherardini, G. Heinen, J. Chéret, T. Welss, M. Giesen, W. Funk, R. Paus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objective: Theophylline is a phosphodiesterase inhibitor that is being used clinically for asthma therapy. In addition, it is recognized as a cosmetic agent with possible anti-ageing and anti-oxidative properties. Nevertheless, how it affects human skin is still poorly examined. Methods: Theophylline (10 or 100 µM) was administered to the culture medium of full-thickness human skin ex vivo for 24 or 72 h. Results: Theophylline stimulated protein expression of the anti-oxidant metallothionein-1 and mRNA levels of collagen I and III. Assessment of fibrillin-1 immunohistology revealed enhanced structural stability of dermal microfibrils. Theophylline also exerted extracellular matrix-protective effects by decreasing MMP-2 and MMP-9 mRNA levels, partially antagonizing the effects of menadione, the potent, toxic ROS donor. In addition, it decreased menadione-stimulated epidermal keratinocytes apoptosis. Interestingly, theophylline also increased the level of intracutaneously produced melatonin, that is the most potent ROS-protective and DNA damage repair neuromediator, and tendentially increased protein expression of MT1, the melatonin receptor. Theophylline also increased the expression of keratin 15, the stem cell marker, in the epidermal basal layer but did not change mitochondrial activity or epidermal pigmentation. Conclusion: This ex vivo pilot study in human skin shows that theophylline possesses several interesting complex skin-protective properties. It encourages further examination of theophylline as a topical candidate for anti-ageing treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-88
Number of pages10
JournalInternational journal of cosmetic science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • anti-ageing
  • collagen
  • dermatology
  • melatonin
  • menadione
  • metallothionein
  • skin
  • stem cells
  • theophylline

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)
  • Aging
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery
  • Dermatology
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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