Cutaneous melanin pigment plays a critical role in camouflage, mimicry, social communication, and protection against harmful effects of solar radiation. Melanogenesis is under complex regulatory control by multiple agents interacting via pathways activated by receptor-dependent and -independent mechanisms, in hormonal, auto-, para-, or intracrine fashion. Because of the multidirectional nature and heterogeneous character of the melanogenesis modifying agents, its controlling factors are not organized into simple linear sequences, but they interphase instead in a multidimensional network, with extensive functional overlapping with connections arranged both in series and in parallel. The most important positive regulator of melanogenesis is the MCI receptor with its ligands melanocortins and ACTH, whereas among the negative regulators agouti protein stands out, determining intensity of melanogenesis and also the type of melanin synthesized. Within the context of the skin as a stress organ, melanogenic activity serves as a unique molecular sensor and transducer of noxious signals and as regulator of local homeostasis. In keeping with these multiple roles, melanogenesis is controlled by a highly structured system, active since early embryogenesis and capable of superselective functional regulation that may reach down to the cellular level represented by single melanocytes. Indeed, the significance of melanogenesis extends beyond the mere assignment of a color trait.
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