DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2024.117755

In a landmark study published on January 13, 2024, in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, a team of researchers led by Yu Xuemei from the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at Shanghai General Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, shone new light on the phytochemicals, active metabolites, and molecular mechanisms by which Psoraleae Fructus (PF) may promote melanogenesis, thereby offering potential treatment for vitiligo. This comprehensive investigation utilized advanced technologies such as UPLC-UV-Q-TOF/MS to identify the constituents of PF extract, and network pharmacology complemented by molecular docking to predict related targets and pathways, with subsequent verification employing pharmacodynamic, and molecular biology experiments.

The Legacy and Mysteries of Psoraleae Fructus

Psoraleae Fructus, a herbal medicine cited in historic texts such as the Compendium of Materia Medica and Welfare Pharmacy, has been an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), used to treat a range of conditions including spleen and kidney deficiency and various skin ailments. Its usage over centuries underscores a rich legacy of healing, and this research seeks to unveil the scientific roots underlying its therapeutic potential.

Despite its historical acclaim and practical efficacy, particularly in managing vitiligo, a condition characterized by the loss of skin pigmentation, the bioactive substances and molecular pathways through which PF exerts its effects had remained elusive—until now.

Unveiling the Phytochemical Secrets

Under the meticulous methodology X Xuemei and her colleagues employed, including UPLC-UV-Q-TOF/MS, 15 compounds were positively identified within the PF extract, and an intricate profile comprising 8 prototype components and 36 metabolites, including isomers, was captured from rat plasma post oral administration at usual doses.

Predictive Network Pharmacology and Molecular Docking

In unveiling the pharmacological maze of PF’s effects against vitiligo, network pharmacology proved invaluable. By applying a multidimensional approach, cross-referencing bioinformatics, systems biology, and polypharmacology, the team uncovered promising action targets—MAPK1, MAPK8, MAPK14—and crucial signaling pathways, particularly the MAPK signaling pathway.

Molecular docking further confirmed the affinity of PF’s identified compounds with these targets, supporting the in silico predictions with robust computational modeling.

Empirical Evidence from Pharmacodynamics and Molecular Biology

The convergence of traditional wisdom and modern science took on a practical dimension with the use of zebrafish embryos to assay melanin production. Bergaptol and xanthotol, PF’s main metabolites; psoralen, the prototype drug; and PF extract itself were all found to significantly enhance melanin synthesis, with bergaptol standing out for its superior pigmentation enhancement.

At the cellular level, bergaptol’s impact was substantiated through its modulation of protein expression levels, with an observed increase in p-P38 and a concurrent decrease in ERK phosphorylation within B16F10 cells.

Significantly, the combination study of inhibitor/activator provided further evidence for the role bergaptol plays in pigmentation. Moreover, bergaptol was seen to elevate the mRNA expression of microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF) and tyrosinase—critical components in the melanogenesis pathway.

Implications and Future Horizons

This multidisciplinary work by X Xuemei’s team not only demonstrates the unexplored potential of traditional medicine when studied through the lens of modern science but also paves the way for targeted drug development. The study suggests that bergaptol, a key metabolite of PF, could be instrumental in developing novel therapeutics for vitiligo, offering new hope to millions affected worldwide.

Challenges and Considerations

Despite these promising findings, the study acknowledges inherent limitations—chief among them the complexity of translating results from zebrafish embryos and murine cells to human clinical applications. It also raises the need for further research to unravel the intricacies of the active compounds and their systemic effects in diverse patient populations.

Moreover, as with all ethnopharmacological explorations, the interplay between traditional knowledge and empirical science requires meticulous and respectful navigation to fully harness the therapeutic synergies that nature offers.


The team’s robust elucidation of the ways in which PF stimulates melanogenesis is a testament to the power of integrating traditional and modern scientific approaches. By bridging these worlds, the researchers have provided a clearer map to navigate the complexities of skin pigmentation disorders, particularly vitiligo.

This study stands as a crucial milestone, reinforcing the need for a multi-angled lens in pharmacological research, from ancient texts to cutting-edge technologies and rigorous empirical testing.


1. Yu, X., Wang, Y., Wu, Z., Jia, M., Xu, Y., Qu, H., Zhao, X., Wang, S., Jing, L., Lou, Y., Fan, G., Gui, Y., (2024). Multi-technology integrated network pharmacology-based study on phytochemicals, active metabolites, and molecular mechanism of Psoraleae Fructus to promote melanogenesis. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 117755.
2. Compendium of Materia Medica (Shizhen Li, Ming dynasty)
3. Welfare Pharmacy (Song dynasty)
4. Pavithra, M. K., Hemshekhar, M., & Thushara, R. M. (2023). Phenylpropanoids in the management of vitiligo: Bio-efficacy and mode of action. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy.
5. Li, S., & Dao, M. (2020). Concepts and methodologies of traditional Chinese medicine. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy.


1. Psoraleae Fructus vitiligo treatment
2. Traditional Chinese Medicine melanogenesis
3. Network pharmacology herbal medicine
4. Bergaptol pigmentation enhancement
5. Vitiligo therapeutic discoveries

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