• endosome;
  • immunoelectron microscopy;
  • Melan-A;
  • MART-1;
  • melanoma;
  • melanosome

To delineate the role of the melanocyte lineage-specific protein Melan-A/MART-1 in melanogenic functions, a set of biochemical and microscopical studies was performed. Biochemical analysis revealed that Melan-A/MART-1 is post-translationally acylated and undergoes a rapid turnover in a pigmented melanoma cell line. Immunofluorescence and immunoelectron microscopy analyses indicated that Melan-A/MART-1 is mainly located in the Golgi area and only partially colocalizes with melanosomal proteins. Quantitative immunoelectron microscopy showed that the highest proportion of the cellular content of Melan-A/MART-1 was found in small vesicles and tubules throughout the cell, whereas the concentration was maximal in the Golgi region, particularly the trans-Golgi network. Substantial labeling was also present on melanosomes, endosomes, ER, nuclear envelope, and plasma membrane. In early endosomes, Melan-A was enriched in areas of the limiting membrane covered by a bi-layered coat, a structural characteristic of melanosomal precursor compartments. Upon melanosome maturation, Melan-A concentration decreased and its predominant localization shifted from the limiting membrane to internal vesicle membranes. In conjunction with its acylation, the high expression levels of Melan-A in the trans-Golgi network, in dispersed vesicles, and on the limiting membrane of premelanosomes indicate that the protein may play a role during the early stage of melanosome biogenesis.