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Keywords:

  • Eumelanin;
  • Pheomelanin;
  • Aminohydroxyphenylalanine;
  • Pyrrole-2,3,5-tricarboxylic acid;
  • High performance liquid chromatography

The color of hair, skin, and eyes in animals mainly depends on the quantity, quality, and distribution of the pigment melanin, which occurs in two types: black to brown eumelanin and yellow to reddish pheomelanin. Microanalytical methods to quantify the amounts of eumelanin and pheomelanin in biological materials were developed in 1985. The methods are based on the chemical degradation of eumelanin to pyrrole-2,3,5-tricarboxylic acid and of pheomelanin to aminohydroxyphenylalanine isomers, which can be analyzed and quantitated by high performance liquid chromatography. This review summarizes and compares eumelanin and pheomelanin contents in various pigmented tissues obtained from humans, mice, and other animals. These methods have become valuable tools to study the functions of melanin, the control of melanogenesis, and the actions and interactions of pigmentation genes. The methods have also found applications in many clinical studies. High levels of pheomelanin are found only in yellow to red hairs of mammals and in red feathers of birds. It remains an intriguing question why lower vertebrates such as fishes do not synthesize pheomelanin. Detectable levels of pheomelanin are detected in human skin regardless of race, color, and skin type. However, eumelanin is always the major constituent of epidermal melanin, and the skin color appears to be determined by the quantity of melanin produced but not by the quality.