Regulation of melanogenesis – controversies and new concepts


KU Schallreuter, Clinical and Experimental Dermatology/Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Bradford, Bradford, BD 7 1DP, West Yorkshire, UK, Tel.: +44 1274 235527, Fax: +44 1274 236489, e-mail:


Abstract:  Despite many efforts, regulation of skin and hair pigmentation is still not fully understood. This article focuses mainly on controversial aspects in pigment cell biology which have emerged over the last decade. The central role of tyrosinase as the key enzyme in initiation of melanogenesis has been closely associated with the 6BH4 dependent phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH) and tyrosine hydroxylase isoform I (THI) providing evidence for an old concept of the three enzyme theory in the initiation of the pigmentation process. In this context, it is noteworthy that intracellular L-phenylalanine uptake and turnover to L-tyrosine via PAH is vital for substrate supply of THI and tyrosinase. While PAH acts in the cytosol of melanocytes, THI and tyrosinase are sitting side by side in the melanosomal membrane. THI at low pH provides L-3,4-hydroxyphenylalanine L-DOPA which in turn is required for activation of met-tyrosinase. After an intramelanosomal pH change, possibly by the p-protein, has taken place, tyrosinase is subject to control by 6/7BH4 and the proopiomelanocortin (POMC) peptides α-MSH melanocyte stimulating hormone and β-MSH in a receptor independent manner. cAMP is required for the activation of microphthalmia-associated transcription factor to induce expression of tyrosinase, for transcription of THI and for activation of PAH. The redundancy of the cAMP signal is discussed. Finally, we propose a novel mechanism involving H2O2 in the regulation of tyrosinase via p53 through transcription of hepatocyte nuclear factor 1α which in turn can also affect the POMC response.