• Coat color genes;
  • HPLC;
  • Melanin;
  • Tyrosinase

Melanocytes produce two chemically distinct types of melanin pigments, eumelanin and pheomelanin. These pigments can be quantitatively analyzed by acidic permanganate oxidation or reductive hydrolysis with hydriodic acid to form pyrrole-2,3,5-tricarboxylic acid or aminohydroxyphenylalanine, respectively. About 30 coat color genes in mice have been cloned, and functions of many of those genes have been elucidated. However, little is known about the interacting functions of these loci. In this study, we used congenic mice to eliminate genetic variability, and analyzed eumelanin and pheomelanin contents of hairs from mice mutant at one or more of the major pigment loci, i.e., the albino (C) locus that encodes tyrosinase, the slaty (Slt) locus that encodes tyrosinase-related protein 2 (TRP2 also known as dopachrome tautomerase, DCT), the brown (B) locus that encodes TRP1, the silver (Si) locus that encodes a melanosomal silver protein, the agouti (A) locus that encodes agouti signaling protein (ASP), the extension (E) locus that encodes melanocortin-1 receptor, and the mahogany (Mg) locus that encodes attractin. We also measured total melanin contents after solubilization of hairs in hot Soluene-350 plus water. Hairs were shaved from 2–3-month-old congenic C57BL/6J mice. The chinchilla (cch) allele is known to encode tyrosinase, whose activity is about one third that of wild type (C). Phenotypes of chinchilla (cch/cch) mice that are wild type or mutant at the brown and/or slaty loci indicate that functioning TRP2 and TRP1 are necessary, in addition to high levels of tyrosinase, for a full production of eumelanin. The chinchilla allele was found to reduce the amount of pheomelanin in lethal yellow and recessive yellow mice to less than one fifth of that in congenic yellow mice that were wild type at the albino locus. This indicates that reduction in tyrosinase activity affects pheomelanogenesis more profoundly compared with eumelanogenesis. Hairs homozygous for mutation at the slaty locus contain 5,6-dihydroxyindole-2-carboxylic acid (DHICA)-poor melanin, and this chemical phenotype was retained in hairs that were mutant at both the brown locus and the slaty locus. Hair from mice mutant at the brown locus, but not at the slaty locus, do not contain DHICA-poor melanin. This indicates that the proportion of DHICA in eumelanin is determined by TRP2, but not by TRP1. Mutation at the slaty locus (Sltlt) was found to have no effect on pheomelanogenesis, supporting a role of TRP2 only in eumelanogenesis. The mutation at silver (si) locus showed an effect similar to brown, a partial suppression of eumelanogenesis. The mutation at mahogany (mg) locus partially suppressed the effect of lethal yellow (Ay) on pheomelanogenesis, supporting a role of mahogany in interfering with agouti signaling. These results show that combination of double mutation study of congenic mice with chemical analysis of melanins is useful in evaluating the interaction of pigment gene functions.