Researchers: Acne linked to vitamin B12

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck
While it is essential for the proper function and development of the brain, nerves, and blood cells, a team of UCLA researchers have discovered that vitamin B12 can alter the behavior of genes in the facial bacteria of some people, promoting inflammation and leading to pimples.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, highlights how B12 supplements can cause acne to develop.
Dr. Huiying Li, an assistant professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, and Dr. Noah Craft, a dermatologist with the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, led the research as part of the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project, an attempt to identify and better understand the role of microorganisms in health.
B12 found to play a role in acne pathogenesis
“Various diseases have been linked to the human microbiota, but the underlying molecular mechanisms of the microbiota in disease pathogenesis are often poorly understood,” the authors wrote. “Using acne as a disease model, we aimed to understand the molecular response of the skin microbiota to host metabolite signaling in disease pathogenesis.”
Through metatranscriptomic analysis, they were able to determine the differences in the skin microbiota of acne patients and those with healthy complexions. Specifically, they found that the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes “was significantly down-regulated in acne patients,” which led them to hypothesize that vitamin B12 modulated skin microbiota activity. As such, it played a role in the pathogenesis of pimples and other forms of acne.
In order to put this hypothesis to the test, they analyzed the skin microbiota in healthy subjects supplemented with vitamin B12, and found that by doing so, they could repress the expression of the vitamin B12 biosynthesis genes in P. acnes, thus altering the microbiota’s transcriptome.
One of the 10 subjects involved in the study went on to develop acne one week following B12 supplementation. Dr. Li, Dr. Craft, and their colleagues then went on to supplement cultures of the P. acnes bacteria with the vitamin, and learned that doing so promoted the production of a group of heterocyclic macrocycle organic compounds known as porphyrins – compounds previously shown to induce inflammation in acne.
They added that their findings “suggest a new bacterial pathogenesis pathway in acne and provide one molecular explanation for the long-standing clinical observation that vitamin B12 supplementation leads to acne development in a subset of individuals” and demonstrate that the essential nutrient “modulates the transcriptional activities of skin bacteria.”
Update: More on the B12/acne link from Dr. Huiying Li
Following the original publication of this story, redOrbit had the opportunity to discuss the study via email with Dr. Li. She reiterated that her team’s research demonstrated that vitamin B12 supplementation can lead to the down-regulation of the vitamin B12 biosynthesis pathway in P. acnes, as well as the increased production of the inflammation-inducing porphyrins.
So what can be done to counteract this?
“Reducing porphyrin production or promoting vitamin B12 biosynthesis in the skin bacterium could be two potential ways,” said Dr. Li. “The genes/proteins involved in the pathways potentially can be drug targets of new acne treatments. Some of the genes were identified in our study showing different expression patterns between acne patients and healthy individuals.”
She added that this association between B12 and acne development was originally reported in the 1950s, but that the mechanism behind the link was not fully understood. This study, Dr. Li noted, establishes that the link between B12 and acne development is “through the skin bacteria” – but she also cautioned that it is “too early to suggest clinical implication in terms of vitamin B12 intake/supplementation,” and that “future studies are needed to fully understand the mechanism.”
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