Melanosomal Damage in Normal Human Melanocytes Induced by UVB and Metal Uptake—A Basis for the Pro-oxidant State of Melanoma


  • This invited paper is part of the Symposium-in-Print: Melanins.

*Corresponding authors email: (Patrick J. Farmer) and (Frank L. Meyskens Jr)


Melanins are ubiquitous catecholic pigments, formed in organelles called melanosomes within melanocytes, the function of which is to protect skin against harmful effects of UV radiation. Melanosomes within melanoma cells are characteristically abnormal, with fragmented melanin and disrupted membranes. We hypothesize that the disruption of melanosomal melanin might be an early event in the etiology and progression of melanoma, leading to increased oxidative stress and mutation. In this report, we examine the effect of a combination of UV treatment and metal ion exposure on melanosomes within melanocytes, as well as their ability to act as pro-oxidants in ex situ experiments, and assay the effects of this treatment on viability and cell cycle progression. UVB exposure causes morphologic changes of the cells and bleaching of melanosomes in normal melanocytes, both significantly enhanced in Cu(II) and Cd(II)-treated cells, as observed by microscopy. The promoted bleaching by Cu(II) is due to its ability to redox cycle under oxidative conditions, generating reactive oxygen species; verified by the observed enhancement of hydroxyl radical generation when isolated melanosomes were treated with both Cu(II) ions and UVB, as assayed by DNA clipping. Single-dose UVB/Cu treatment does not greatly affect cell viability or cell cycle progression in heavily pigmented cells, but did so in an amelanotic early stage melanoma cell line.