Melanin in the long-lived melanosomes of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) may undergo photobleaching with aging, which appears to diminish the antioxidant function of melanin and could make photobleached melanosomes less efficient in protecting biomolecules from oxidative modification. Here we analyzed whether photobleaching of melanosomes affects their ability to modify the oxidation state of nearby protein. As conventional methods developed to study soluble antioxidants are not well suited for analysis of granules such as melanosomes, we developed a new analytic method to focus on particle surfaces that involves experimentally coating granules with the cytoskeletal protein β-actin to serve as a reporter for local protein oxidation. Isolated porcine RPE melanosomes were photobleached with visible light to simulate aging, then photobleached melanosomes, untreated melanosomes and control particles (black latex beads) were actin coated and illuminated in a photosensitized cell free system. Protein was re-stripped from particles and analyzed for carbonylation by Western blotting. Quantitative densitometry showed no reproducible differences for protein associated with untreated melanosomes when compared with control particles. Melanin has both anti- and pro-oxidant functions when light irradiated, but neither of these functions predominated in the protein oxidation assay when untreated melanosomes were used. However, protein extracted from photobleached melanosomes showed markedly increased carbonylation, both of associated actin and of endogenous melanosomal protein(s), and the effect increased with extent of granule photobleaching. Photobleaching of RPE melanosomes therefore changes the oxidation state of protein endogenous to the organelle and reduces the ability of the granule to modify the oxidation of exogenous protein near the particle surface. The results support the growing body of evidence that photobleaching of RPE melanosomes, which is believed to occur with aging, changes the physicochemical properties of the organelle and reduces the likelihood that the granules perform an antioxidant function.
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