The histological analysis, colorimetric evaluation, and chemical quantification of melanin content in ‘suntanned’ fish


* Address correspondence to Kohsuke Adachi, e-mail:


Human melanocytes respond to UV irradiation by increasing the synthesis of melanin. While much is now understood of the pathways governing this process and the nature of the melanin synthesized, little is known of melanins produced by lower vertebrates and their capacity to respond to UV. Here we report that a fish, red seabream, can undergo ‘suntanning’. Histological, colorimetric and chemical assays were performed for suntanned red seabream fish bred in net cages to analyse the melanins and compared with shaded or wild red seabream fish. For color evaluation, the L* values of suntanned fish were dramatically lower than those in the other two groups. Pyrrole-2,3,5-tricarboxylic acid (PTCA), an indicator of eumelanin, was detected in suntanned fish at five times higher levels than in shaded or wild fish while 4-amino-3-hydroxyphenyl-alanine (4-AHP), a marker for pheomelanin, could not be detected in any of the samples. Histological analysis showed that melanocytes in the suntanned skin enlarged and increased in number to form a monolayer at the surface of the skin. Analysis of L* values and PTCA levels showed quite a high correlation coefficient (r = −0.843). When comparing shaded and wild red seabream fish, the scores were closer but some significant differences were still found in some body areas. These results indicate that eumelanin accumulates in suntanned fish during the increase in skin color, which is induced by sunlight, presumably by ultraviolet radiation.