Cellular and Hormonal Regulation of Pigmentation in Human Ocular Melanocytes


Address reprint requests to Dr L.C. Smith-Thomas, Division of Clinical Sciences, Section of Medicine, Clinical Sciences Centre, Northern General Hospital, Sheffield S5 7AU, United Kingdom. E-mail: l.smith-thomas@sheffield.ac.uk


The purpose of this study was to examine some of the factors that may be relevant to regulating pigmentation in the human eye, specifically whether choroidal and iridial melanocytes are sensitive to regulation by epithelial and stromal cells and α-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH). Human choroidal and iridial melanocytes were established in culture and co-cultured with epithelial cells and stromal cells derived both from skin and from eye in order to determine their influence on choroidal and iridial melanocyte dopa oxidase activity. In all cases, co-culture of melanocytes with either epithelial cells or fibroblasts led to an increase in dopa oxidase activity during 5 days of co-culture. The extent of the increase ranged from 60% (non-significant) to as much as 185% when both fibroblasts and keratinocytes were present. The optimal ratio of fibroblasts to melanocytes was 1:10 (for dermal fibroblasts) or 1:2 (for iridial fibroblasts) and 1:1 for all epithelial cells to melanocytes. Both choroidal (three out of three cultures) and iridial (two out of three cultures) melanocytes showed increases in dopa oxidase activity to α-MSH when cultured in Green's media but the same cells cultured in MCDB153 were unresponsive to α-MSH. These in vitro studies suggest that ocular melanocytes have the capacity to be influenced by adjacent epithelial and stromal cells with respect to pigmentation.