Melanin pigments are responsible for human skin and hair color, and they protect the body from harmful ultraviolet light. The black and brown melanin pigments are synthesized in specialized lysosome-related organelles called melanosomes in melanocytes. Mature melanosomes are transported within melanocytes and transferred to adjacent keratinocytes, which constitute the principal part of human skin. The melanosomes are then deposited inside the keratinocytes and darken the skin (a process called tanning). Owing to their dark color, melanosomes can be seen easily with an ordinary light microscope, and melanosome research dates back approximately 150 years; since then, biochemical studies aimed at isolating and purifying melanosomes have been conducted. Moreover, in the last two decades, hundreds of molecules involved in regulating melanosomal functions have been identified by analyses of the genes of coat-color mutant animals and patients with genetic diseases characterized by pigment abnormalities, such as hypopigmentation. In recent years, dynamic analyses by more precise microscopic observations have revealed specific functions of a variety of molecules involved in melanogenesis. This review article focuses on the latest findings with regard to the steps (or mechanisms) involved in melanosome formation and transport of mature melanosomes within epidermal melanocytes. Finally, we will touch on current topics in melanosome research, particularly on the 'melanosome transfer' and 'post-transfer' steps, and discuss future directions in pigment research.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)