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Keywords:

  • melanin;
  • melanocyte;
  • stimulating hormone;
  • reactive oxygen species;
  • oxidative stress

Abstract Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are potentially cytotoxic and several mechanisms have evolved to protect against their damaging effects. In melanocytes, tyrosinase may have such a role by utilising the superoxide anion (O2)in the production of melanin. In the present study, we have examined the cytotoxic effects of O2 and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) in human melanocytes both before and following the activation of tyrosinase. Xanthine oxidase (XO, 5–150 mU · ml−1) and glucose oxidase (GO, 0.1-20 mU · ml−1) were used to generate the O2 and H2O2 respectively, and the cytotoxic effects assessed by measuring cell survival using the 3-[4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl]-2.5 diphenyltetrazolium (MTT) assay. 3 h later, dose related decreases in melanocyte survival were seen. Similar experiments with keratinocytes and libroblasts showed that these cells were more resistant to the cytotoxic effects of O2 than were the melanocytes. The effect of increasing tyrosinase activity was examined by growing the melanocytes in the presence of an analogue of melano-cyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) Nle4DPhe7α-MSH (10−8 M), for 48 h. This increased tyrosinase activity, melanin content, the ability to trap O2 and the resistance of the melanocytes to the cytoloxic effects of this ROS. but failed to alter their susceptibility to the damaging effects of H2O. Nle4DPhe7α-MSH had no effect on the resistance of keratinocytes and libroblasts to either O2 or H202. After 3 h, XO. as opposed to GO. also increased the melanin content of human melanocytes; this effect was not accompanied by an increase in tyrosinase activity. The present results suggest that tyrosinase may utilise O2 to produce melanin and that this process may protect melanocytes from the potentially damaging effects of this ROS.