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Keywords:

  • Eumelanin;
  • Pheomelanin;
  • PTCA;
  • PDCA;
  • TTCA;
  • TDCA;
  • AHP;
  • AT;
  • AHPEA;
  • HPLC

Among the biopolymers, melanins are unique in many respects. The other essential biopolymers – proteins, nucleic acids, and carbohydrates – are chemically well characterized; their precursors (monomer units) and modes of connection between the monomer units are known, and sequences of their connection can be determined with well-established methodologies. In contrast, we still do not have a method to determine accurately the ratio of various units present in melanins. This is largely because of the chemical properties of melanins, such as their insolubility over a broad range of pH, the heterogeneity in their structural features, and also because of the lack of methods that can split melanin polymers into their monomer units (all other biopolymers can be hydrolysed to the corresponding monomer units). To overcome this difficulty, we developed a rapid and sensitive method for quantitatively analysing eumelanin and pheomelanin in biological samples by chemical degradation methods followed by HPLC determination. This HPLC microanalytical method for characterizing eumelanin and pheomelanin has become a useful tool for the study of melanogenesis. This review will summarize the usefulness and limitations of the various chemical and spectrophotometric methods used to analyse melanins at the biochemical, cellular, and tissue levels. Emphasis is given on the usefulness of 4-amino-3-hydroxyphenylalanine as a specific marker of pheomelanin.