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Imaging, Chemical and Spectroscopic Studies of the Methylation-induced Decomposition of Melanosomes


  • This invited paper is part of the Symposium-in-Print: “Phototoxicity of the Skin and Eye,” in honor of Dr. Colin Chignell.

Corresponding author email: (John D. Simon)


The morphological and chemical changes associated with the exposure of melanosomes to methyl iodide are assessed by a variety of analytical, imaging and spectroscopic methods. Scanning electron microscopy, light scattering and N2 adsorption measurements all indicate significant changes in the morphology of the pigment following methylation. Solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (SS-NMR) spectroscopy and chemical degradation analysis reveals the methylation results in the introduction of ester groups into the pigment structures. Amino acid analysis further reveals that Arg, Cys, His, Ser and Tyr undergo methylation; the SS-NMR data provide additional evidence for the methylation of the sulfur of Cys. Methylation results in increased solubility of the melanosome; the absorption properties of the dissolved material are characterized by an absorption maximum at 225 nm, with a long tail throughout the UV-A and UV-B, indicating that the solubilized material is a combination of protein and pigment. The methylation-induced decomposition of the melanosomes provides new insights into both the observed increase in O-methyl derivatives of the indolic precursor to eumelanin in the urine of melanoma patients and how increased levels of biologic methylating agents in the brain induce symptoms that resemble Parkinson’s disease.