Analysis of Mammalian Pigmentation at the Molecular Level


  • Adapted from a lecture presented at the first meeting of the Pan American Society for Pigment Research in Minneapolis, June 1988.

Address reprint requests to Dr. Vincent Hearing, Bldg 37, Room 1B22, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892


There has been great interest lately in the cloning of pigment-related genes; several laboratories have succeeded in isolating melanocyte-specific genes which have many of the characteristics expected for tyrosinase. In this paper, we review the selection criteria, the physical properties, and the functional characteristics of several of these gene products. Two of the clones map to the brown (b) and albino (c) loci, genes that are involved in the regulation of the quantity and quality of melanin production. The functional characteristics of these gene products are not easily reconciled with existing schemes of melanogenesis, and a reevaluation of our concepts of melanogenic regulation may be necessary. The altered expression of these gene products in normal and in transformed melanocytes, and the alternative mRNA processing that occurs in those cells, makes this system an appropriate and interesting one for studies of normal metabolic regulation of gene expression, as well as altered gene expression by neoplastic cells.