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Keywords:

  • L-tyrosine;
  • L-DOPA;
  • melanocytes;
  • melanin;
  • metabolic regulation;
  • substrate induction;
  • receptors

Summary

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA as positive regulators of melanogenesis
  5. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA modification
  6. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA stimulate MSH receptor activities
  7. Mechanism of action for L-tyrosine and L-DOPA
  8. Concluding remarks
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

There is evidence that L-tyrosine and L-dihydroxyphenylalanine (L-DOPA), besides serving as substrates and intermediates of melanogenesis, are also bioregulatory agents acting not only as inducers and positive regulators of melanogenesis but also as regulators of other cellular functions. These can be mediated through action on specific receptors or through non-receptor-mediated mechanisms. The substrate induced (L-tyrosine and/or L-DOPA) melanogenic pathway would autoregulate itself as well as regulate the melanocyte functions through the activity of its structural or regulatory proteins and through intermediates of melanogenesis and melanin itself. Dissection of regulatory and autoregulatory elements of this process may elucidate how substrate-induced autoregulatory pathways have evolved from prokaryotic or simple eukaryotic organisms to complex systems in vertebrates. This could substantiate an older theory proposing that receptors for amino acid-derived hormones arose from the receptors for those amino acids, and that nuclear receptors evolved from primitive intracellular receptors binding nutritional factors or metabolic intermediates.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA as positive regulators of melanogenesis
  5. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA modification
  6. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA stimulate MSH receptor activities
  7. Mechanism of action for L-tyrosine and L-DOPA
  8. Concluding remarks
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

Non-essential aromatic amino acid L-tyrosine, in addition of being an element of protein synthesis, serves as a precursor to melanin pigment, catecholamines, tyramine/octopamine and thyroid hormones through the organification of iodine on tyrosine residue of thyroglobulin with monoiodo- and diiotyrosine as intermediates (Yen, 2001; Figure 1). In the body, L-tyrosine, to serve these diverse functions, is either delivered through the gastro-intestinal tract (GI) or produced by L-phenylalanine hydroxylation, the reaction mediated by L-phenylalanine hydroxylase (PH), with the liver being the main site of its systemic supply (Blau et al., 2010; Schallreuter et al., 2008). Depending on the cell type and enzymatic context, it can be hydroxylated to L-dihydroxyphenylalanine (L-DOPA) – reactions mediated by either tyrosine hydroxylase (TPH) or tyrosinase (Tyr) (Slominski et al., 2004). It can also be decarboxylated to tyramine, or, through the action of thyroperoxidases on thyroglobulin, is transformed to monoiodo- and diiodotyrosine, with the latter being transformed to thyroid hormones through sequential actions of thyroid peroxidase and deiodinases (Yen, 2001; Figure 1). L-dihydroxyphenylalanine is further decarboxylated to dopamine by L-amino acid decarboxylase (AAD) with further hydroxylation and methylation to produce norepinephrine or epinephrine, or is oxidated by monoamine oxidase (MAO) to generate 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC) (Figure 1).

image

Figure 1.  Scheme showing metabolic transformation of L-tyrosine and its precursor L-phenylalanine to several bioregulatory molecules. In addition to being transformed to catecholamines and melanins, L-tyrosine and L-DOPA can potentially be esterified as shown in the lower box, where R1 and R2 = phosphate, sulfate, glucuronide, acetyl or nitrate.

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In the melanogenic pathway, L-DOPA is oxidized by tyrosinase to dopaquinone, an intermediate that is common to both eu- and pheomelanogenic pathways (Ito, 2003; Park et al., 2009; Simon et al., 2009) (Figure 2). During eumelanogenesis, dopaquinones are transformed to leukodopachrome, followed by a series of oxido-reduction reactions producing the intermediates dihydroxyindole (DHI) and DHI carboxylic acid (DHICA), and finally forming eumelanin (Ito, 2003; Simon et al., 2009). The velocity of these reactions and the types of intermediates are regulated by tyrosinase-related proteins type 1 (TRP1) and type 2 (TRP2) as well as by physicochemical milieu (metal ions, alkaline pH) (Hearing, 1999; Park et al., 2009; Schallreuter and Wood, 1999). Conjugation of dopaquinone to cysteine or glutathione to yield cysteinyldopa and glutathionyldopa initiates pheomelanogenesis, finally producing pheomelanin (Ito, 2003; Simon et al., 2009).

image

Figure 2.  Scheme show enzymatic steps of sequential transformation of L-tyrosine and L-DOPA to melanin pigments.

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In vivo, initiation of the melanogenic pathway is dependent on either transport of L-tyrosine from the extracellular space into the melanosomal compartment of the melanocyte or intracellular generation through hydroxylation of L-phenylalanine by phenylalanine hydroxylase (PH) (Schallreuter and Wood, 1999; Slominski et al., 2004).

L-tyrosine and L-DOPA as positive regulators of melanogenesis

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA as positive regulators of melanogenesis
  5. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA modification
  6. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA stimulate MSH receptor activities
  7. Mechanism of action for L-tyrosine and L-DOPA
  8. Concluding remarks
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

Overview

Traditionally, L-tyrosine and L-DOPA are recognized as the consecutive substrates and intermediates of melanogenesis, which in the past led to the prevalent opinion that these amino acids acted solely as substrates to melanin pigment, without possessing any modifying capability of their own. This view found some justification in observations that, in many melanoma/melanocyte lines, increased supply of L-tyrosine leads only to increased melanin pigmentation without apparent changes in the expression of proteins or genes of the melanin synthesis pathway. However, almost 20 yr ago it became clear that both L-tyrosine and L-DOPA also act as positive regulators of melanogenesis in a manner dependent on the species, cell genotype and its environment (Slominski and Paus, 1990, 1994). The most comprehensive documentation on the positive regulation of the melanogenic apparatus of melanogenesis by L-tyrosine was provided in lines of rodent malignant melanocytes (see below).

Melanoma cells

In cultured hamster melanoma lines, supplementation of L-tyrosine from 10 to 600 μM stimulated not only melanin synthesis but also tyrosinase activity in a dose- and time-dependent manner with kinetics defined by the original melanogenic potential of the cell line (Slominski et al., 1988). In melanotic and hypomelanotic lines, tyrosinase activity reached its peak at optimal media tyrosine concentration (200 or 400 μM, respectively) and decreased at pharmacologic concentrations (400 or 600 μM, respectively), whereas in amelanotic cells, there was a continued increase; this, however, slowed (reaching a plateau) when levels of melanization became high (Slominski et al., 1988). The most instructive results were obtained in lines of Bomirski hamster amelanotic melanoma cultured in Ham’s F10 media relatively low in tyrosine (10 μM). Increased L-tyrosine supplements produced concomitant induction and further increases melanin formation and stimulation of both the tyrosine hydroxylase and DOPA oxidase activities of tyrosinase in a process dependent on new protein synthesis (Slominski et al., 1988). This was later confirmed by showing increased production of tyrosinase protein without a significant mRNA expression, demonstrating translational regulation of the enzyme by its substrate in this model (Slominski 1989; Slominski and Costantino, 1991a). The effect was specific, as under the same conditions the enantiomers (D-isoform), related (L-phenylalanine and L-tryptophan) or unrelated (L-valine) amino acids or N-acetyl-tyrosine had little or no effect (Slominski et al., 1988), and this process was independent from L-tyrosine transformation to catecholamines, as both nor- and epinephrine as well as agonists of α and β adrenergic receptors had none or relatively lower effects on tyrosinase activity in comparison with their substrate (Howe et al., 1991). Importantly, induction of melanogenesis was preceded and accompanied by induction of melanosome synthesis and translocation of tyrosinase enzyme from trans-Golgi network (TGN) to premelanosomes with further enzymatic activation (Slominski et al., 1988, 1989b), and L-tyrosine-stimulated melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) receptor expression and MSH receptor activity (Slominski and Pawelek, 1987; Slominski et al., 1989a). L-tyrosine also induced translocation from TGN to melanosomes of other enzymes such as acid phosphatase, indicating a more general effect on the intracellular transport without, however, changing the enzymatic activity of selected lysosomal enzymes (Slominski et al., 1988). This indicated a pleiotropic effect of L-tyrosine on intracellular transport and processing that was, however, specific for the stimulation of melanogenic protein activity. The fundamental role of L-tyrosine in induction of melanosome formation was confirmed by experiments with phenylthiourea (PTU), a non-toxic inhibitor of melanogenesis, which while inhibiting stimulation of tyrosinase by L-tyrosine, did not prevent L-tyrosine stimulation of melanosome synthesis (Slominski et al., 1989b). They presented as the premelanosome stage II with matrix as a multilamellar outer shell and paracrystalline core, or a vesicular matrix (Slominski et al., 1989b). In this model, MSH and agents that raise intracellular cyclic AMP, induced dendrite formation, inhibited cell growth, and caused substantial increases in tyrosinase activity without inducing melanin synthesis; tyrosinase accumulated solely in the TGN and the mature melanosomes were absent (Slominski et al., 1989c). Therefore, it was concluded that L-tyrosine played a crucial role in the induction of the melanotic phenotype through induction and enhancement of both melanosome synthesis/assembly and translocation of tyrosinase from the TGN to melanosomes, leading to in vivo activation of melanogenesis (Slominski and Paus, 1994; Slominski et al., 1988, 1989b). In parallel experiments performed with mouse Cloudman S91 melanoma cells L-tyrosine, while increasing melanin pigmentation, had no effect on or even decreased tyrosinase activity (Slominski et al., 1988), indicating that in this model the activities of the melanogenic apparatus are largely independent of extracellular tyrosine. This was most likely due to an endogenous production of L-tyrosine from L-phenylalanine (Slominski et al., 2004), as detection PH activity has been reported in these cells (Breakefield et al., 1978).

The confirmation for L-tyrosine function as a positive regulator of melanogenesis was also provided in B16 melanoma (Price et al., 1988). In this cell line, L-tyrosine and L-phenylanine not only stimulated melanogenesis but also increased dendrite formation and enhanced the metastatic capability of these cells (Prezioso et al., 1993), apparently through downregulation of protein kinase C (PKC)ζ (Sanz-Navares et al., 2001). Most recently, Zmijewski et al. (unpublished) have also shown that L-tyrosine induced melanin pigmentation in the amelanotic subline of B16 and that this induction was accompanied by the stimulation of tyrosinase mRNA, indicating a transcriptional mode of regulation that was absent in hamster melanoma. Similarly, other investigators demonstrated stimulation of tyrosinase by L-tyrosine in several human melanoma lines (Halaban et al., 2001, 2002a; Ramirez-Bosca et al., 1992; Slominski et al., 1999; Winder and Harris, 1992) in post-translational (Halaban et al., 2001), translational and/or transcriptional modes of action (Slominski et al., 1999).

The novel role for L-DOPA as a positive regulator of melanogenesis was shown for the first time in Cloudman S91 melanoma (McLane et al., 1987; Pawelek and Murray, 1986; Pawelek et al., 1988) and Bomirski hamster melanoma cells (Pawelek et al., 1988; Slominski et al., 1989b).Thus, the addition of phosphate at position C3 and/or C4 of L-DOPA, which produced relatively stable phospho-DOPA (P-DOPA), resulted in dose-dependent stimulatory effects on tyrosinase activity and melanin pigmentation through amplification of the MSH receptor system (McLane et al., 1987; Pawelek and Osber, 1992; Pawelek et al., 1988). L-DOPA by itself did not affect melanogenesis, being rapidly consumed by the melanogenic pathway in Cloudman melanoma cells; however, at micromolar or lower concentrations, it stimulated cell proliferation (McLane et al., 1987; Pawelek et al., 1988). In hamster amelanotic cells, L-DOPA induced rapid and dose-dependent increases of tyrosinase activity, being significantly more potent than its D- form, with a peak activity at 25 or 50 μM, which induced only moderate pigmentation and formation of predominantly immature melanosomes (Slominski et al., 1988). Tyrosinase accumulated predominantly in the TGN (Slominski et al., 1988) with increased concentration of the protein, as documented by Western blot, that was accompanied by an initial increase in tyrosinase mRNA, followed by a decrease below control levels (Slominski and Costantino, 1991b).

Normal melanocytes

Earlier studies performed with amphibian cells have shown that L-tyrosine can act as an inducer of melanogenesis in embryonic cells (Landstrom and Lovtrup, 1978; Lovtrup et al., 1984) and as a stimulator of differentiation programs in cultured frog melanophores (Fukuzawa and Ide, 1988). These effects were strikingly similar to those described in hamster amelanotic melanomas (Slominski and Pawelek, 1987; Slominski et al., 1988, 1989a).

Follow-up studies performed on human normal melanocytes have clearly demonstrated that increasing concentration of L-tyrosine in culture medium stimulated tyrosinase activity in a dose-dependent manner with optimal concentrations of 276–550 μM of the ligand (Ramirez-Bosca et al., 1992). Other investigators have shown that the pigmentary defect of the oculocutaneous albinism type 2 (OCA2) can be corrected at least partially by L-tyrosine (reviewed in Orlow and Brilliant, 1999). Oculocutaneous albinism type 2 results from the mutations in pink-eyed dilution gene (P), leading to decreased pigmentation (Box et al., 1998; Oetting and King, 1999; Sturm et al., 2001) due to defective processing of tyrosinase and TRPs with intracellular misrouting, proteolysis and/or secretion to the extracellular environment (Halaban et al., 2002b; Manga et al., 2001; Toyofuku et al., 2002). Thus, in melanocytes from OCA-2 mice, L-tyrosine partially restored pigmentary activity by properly targeting tyrosinase and TRP1 to melanosomes (Hirobe et al., 2002; Manga et al., 2001; Rosemblat et al., 1998), and increased the number of melanosomes at later stages of maturation as well as activity and concentration of tyrosinase (Hirobe et al., 2002; Manga et al., 2001; Rosemblat et al., 1998) without affecting tyrosinase mRNA levels (Potterf et al., 1998; Rosemblat et al., 1998). Similarly, L-tyrosine induced maturation and accumulation of tyrosinase in experimental models of OCA1B (Halaban et al., 2002a). Also studies on melanoblasts and melanocytes from C57BL/10 mice demonstrated that L-tyrosine also increases formation of premelanosomes and melanosomes in mutant (pp) melanocytes and increased intracellular concentration of c-Kit, TyrP1 and TyrP2 protein in both non-mutant (PP) and pp cells with increased tyrosinase accumulation, as demonstrated by DOPA cytochemistry (Hirobe et al., 2002). Interestingly, L-tyrosine, while stimulating proliferation of pp melanocytes inhibited growth of PP melanocytes (Hirobe et al., 2003). Furthermore, Hirobe et al. (2007a), using melanocytes from mice with loss-of-function mutation in the MC1R (e/e), have shown that L-tyrosine stimulated tyrosinase activity and TRP1 and TRP2 expression, and maturation of melanosomes with an increased pigmentation. as well as increased proliferation of melanocytes. The same authors also showed that the inhibition of pheo- and eumelanin synthesis by the slaty mutation can be partially restored by the addition of excess L-tyrosine (Hirobe et al., 2007b). In mouse melanotic melanocyte cell line, TM10, 200 μM L-DOPA and P-DOPA, but not cysteinyl-DOPA, stimulated pheomelanosome formation and pheomelanin synthesis without stimulating tyrosinase activity (Sato et al., 1987), indicating that DOPA can have modulatory role even in cells fully expressing the melanogenic pathway.

The above findings substantiated the physiological significance of the mechanisms described originally in hamster and mouse melanoma models (Pawelek et al., 1988; Slominski et al., 1988, 1989a). Notable, in vivo P-DOPA also stimulated skin melanin pigmentation (Agin et al., 1987; Pawelek and Osber, 1992), and synergized with the action of UVB (Pawelek et al., 1988). Similarly, topical application of L-tyrosine in Skh:HR2 mice amplified the cutaneous melanogenic response to UVB (Warren, 1986).

L-tyrosine and L-DOPA modification

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA as positive regulators of melanogenesis
  5. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA modification
  6. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA stimulate MSH receptor activities
  7. Mechanism of action for L-tyrosine and L-DOPA
  8. Concluding remarks
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

As, depending on genetic background, environmental factors and experimental models, L-tyrosine and L-DOPA can act as an inducers/stimulators or modifiers of melanogenic apparatus or as a substrates for already existing constitutive melanogenic apparatus, it remains to be determined whether they can be modified in vivo and whether their derivatives are biologically active. Modification of tyrosine residue in protein by methylation, phosphorylation, sulfation or nitrification has been well studied and plays a crucial role in protein activity, but there is a shortage of information on regulation of free L-tyrosine and L-DOPA activity, although recent findings encourage further investigations on this subject (Liu et al., 2007; Rabbani and Thornalley, 2008; Yasuda et al., 2011). Current concepts concerning modifications of these free amino acids are summarized in Figure 3.

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Figure 3.  Potential modifications of L-tyrosine and L-DOPA and it oxidation products with predicted physiological significance.

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O-Methylation of L-DOPA and of other melanin precursors such as 5,6-dihydroxyindol or 5,6-dihydroxyindol-2-carboxylic acid by COMT plays a regulatory role in melanocyte activity by attenuating oxidative stress through removal of melanogenesis byproducts (Smit and Pavel, 1995; Smit et al., 1994). Similar mechanisms operate in Parkinson’s patients undergoing to L-DOPA treatment (Muller, 2010).

Although phosphorylation of tyrosine residues plays important role in regulation of protein activity, it remains to be investigated whether phosphorylation of free tyrosine plays a significant role in physiology. However, a study by Munoz and coworkers demonstrated that free phosphotyrosine induced platelet aggregation (Munoz et al., 1992). Importantly, phospho-L-tyrosine inhibited cellular growth in a number of non-melanocytic lines via inhibition of epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase and stimulation of protein tyrosine phosphatases (Mishra and Hamburger, 1993a,b). It also inhibited insulin-triggered insulin receptor tyrosine phosphorylation in the HEPG2 cell line and the tyrosine phosphorylation of a variety of cellular proteins in src-transformed NIH3T3 cells (Mishra and Hamburger, 1996). These findings support the concept that free phosphotyrosine or phosphodopa may play a role in the regulation of melanocyte behavior (Pawelek et al., 1988; Slominski, 1991; Winder and Harris, 1992). Importantly, P-DOPA should also be considered an attractive alternative for current therapy in Parkinson’s disease.

The presence of free 3-nitro-L-tyrosine and the nitrification of L-tyrosine residue in proteins are markers of oxidative/nitrosative stress (Rabbani and Thornalley, 2008). Thus, nitrification of free L-tyrosine (and probably L-DOPA), especially in melanin-producing cells, could be a marker and a first line of defense against oxidative/nitrosative stress (Liu et al., 2007). On the other hand, free 3-nitro-L-tyrosine is known to cause potential damage to cells, including motor neuron apoptosis (Peluffo et al., 2004). It is possible that, depending on condition, nitrification of L-tyrosine, and probably other byproducts of melanogenesis, may serve both as a protective mechanism for the cell survival and as an inducer of apoptosis. For example, such a mechanism could play a role in neurodegenerative diseases (Beal, 2002; Pacher et al., 2007) including Parkinson’s disease (Tsang and Chung, 2009) or development of vitiligo (Schallreuter et al., 2011). Importantly, L-DOPA stimulates nitric oxide synthetase (Pacher et al., 2007), and nitrate levels can serve as markers of nitrosative stress in vitiligo (Hazneci et al., 2005).

Sulfation and glucuronidation of xenobiotics can increase their water solubility, facilitating their excretion from the body. Both L-tyrosine and L-DOPA can be enzymatically sulfated (Liu et al., 2007; Suiko et al., 1996; Taskinen et al., 2003; Yasuda et al., 2011). Therefore, it is possible that sulfation of L-DOPA and L-tyrosine may play a role in detoxification under oxidant stress related to melanogenesis, as it has been shown to in inflammatory responses (Liu et al., 2007; Yasuda et al., 2011). This is further supported by the identification of ester glucuronide and sulfate conjugates of 5-hydroxy-6-methoxyindole-2-carboxylic acid and 6-hydroxy-5-methoxyindole-2-carboxylic acid in urine of melanoma patients (Wakamatsu and Ito, 1990) and the rapid metabolism of L-DOPA to dopamine-4-O-glucuronide and 3-methoxytyramine-4-O-glucuronide in transplantable islet cell tumor of the golden hamster (Falck et al., 1977).

Thus, modification of free L-tyrosine and L-DOPA or products of L-DOPA metabolism could modulate their functions with attendant pleiotropic phenotypic effects as summarized in Figure 3.

L-tyrosine and L-DOPA stimulate MSH receptor activities

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA as positive regulators of melanogenesis
  5. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA modification
  6. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA stimulate MSH receptor activities
  7. Mechanism of action for L-tyrosine and L-DOPA
  8. Concluding remarks
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

L-tyrosine and P-DOPA both acted as positive regulators of MSH receptor activity (McLane et al., 1987; Pawelek et al., 1988; Slominski and Pawelek, 1987; Slominski et al., 1989a). Specifically, P-DOPA stimulated MSH receptor expression on S91 melanoma cells and amplified melanogenesis induced by MSH (McLane et al., 1987). In Bomirski hamster amelanotic melanoma cells, L-tyrosine stimulated MSH receptor expression, with concomitant amplification of tyrosinase activity stimulated by MSH and reduced positive cooperation among MSH receptors with a specificity indicated by the lack of effect on unrelated insulin receptor (Slominski and Pawelek, 1987; Slominski et al., 1989a). These findings have been confirmed in normal amphibian melanoblasts, where L-tyrosine acted synergistically with MSH in the stimulation of melanogenesis (Fukuzawa and Bagnara, 1989), and in normal human epidermal melanocytes, where increased tyrosine levels regulated the melanogenic response to α-MSH (Schwahn et al., 2001). Also it was reported that in human melanomas L-tyrosine and L-DOPA stimulated MSH binding to the cell surface in a dose-restricted manner (Ghanem et al., 1989).

In mouse and hamster and melanoma cells, stimulation of MSH receptors required prolonged exposure to P-DOPA or L-tyrosine (days) (McLane et al., 1987; Pawelek et al., 1988; Slominski and Pawelek, 1987; Slominski et al., 1989a), with maximal binding capacity (in the case of L-tyrosine) when full melanogenic potential was induced (Slominski and Pawelek, 1987; Slominski et al., 1989a). Interestingly, in human melanomas, increased MSH binding was seen within hours after exposure to L-tyrosine or L-DOPA (Ghanem et al., 1989). In other melanoma models, stimulation of melanogenesis increases expression of MSH receptors (Slominski et al., 1999). In hamster melanomas, stimulation of melanogenesis did not change MC1-R mRNA concentrations (Slominski, unpublished); however, in human melanoma, increased melanogenesis was accompanied by increased MC1-R and tyrosinase mRNA concentrations (Slominski et al., 1999).

Mechanism of action for L-tyrosine and L-DOPA

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA as positive regulators of melanogenesis
  5. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA modification
  6. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA stimulate MSH receptor activities
  7. Mechanism of action for L-tyrosine and L-DOPA
  8. Concluding remarks
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

Historical overview

These complex phenotypic effects of L-tyrosine and L-DOPA (including P-DOPA) in the pigmentary system would require diverse regulatory mechanisms by which both of these compounds would act directly or indirectly to induce and further maintain or regulate the melanogenic system. For example, a direct regulatory mechanism should involve interactions with regulatory proteins that specifically bind L-tyrosine or L-DOPA, including receptors for those amino acids, the existence of which was for the first time proposed in mammalian system by Slominski and Paus (1990, 1994). The indirect mechanism would involve an action through intermediates of melanogenesis, with L-DOPA acting as the initial and major ‘second messenger’ and tyrosinase serving as a regulatory protein controlling production and inactivation of these non-standard second messengers, a concept originally proposed in Slominski et al. (1989b). In this scenario, melanocytes would regulate local and global homeostasis through control of L-tyrosine levels, production of L-DOPA (Slominski and Paus, 1990), and final formation of melanosomes, which would serve as ‘regulatory packages/organelle second messengers’, affecting the status not only of the melanocyte but also of the recipient cells to which they were transferred (Slominski et al., 1993). Remarkably, the premature age-related and noise-induced hearing loss or visual dysfunctions in albino mice can be corrected by L-DOPA generated through the action of tyrosinase or tyrosine hydroxylase (Lavado and Montoliu, 2006; Murillo-Cuesta et al., 2010), supporting an original hypothesis on bioregulatory functions of L-DOPA and tyrosinase (Slominski and Paus, 1990; Slominski et al., 1989b). Below we discuss different mechanisms of action in different experimental models.

Role of tyrosinase

Tyrosinase and melanogenesis-related proteins (MRP) are the classical proteins binding L-tyrosine and L-DOPA (Park et al., 2009; Schallreuter and Wood, 1999). Halaban et al. (2001, 2002a), based on her observations in normal and malignant human melanocytes, has proposed that L-tyrosine and L-DOPA are necessary for the proper folding of tyrosinase in endoplasmic reticulum (ER), protecting it from entering the degradation pathway. In this model these amino acids enhanced tyrosinase exit from the ER, its carbohydrate modifications in the Golgi apparatus, and its transport into melanosomes, with a resulting increase in melanin pigmentation.

These findings confirmed earlier observations on Bomirski hamster amelanotic melanoma lines showing that L-tyrosine-induced translocation of tyrosinase from TGN to melanosomes was a prerequisite for initiating the melanogenic pathway (Slominski et al., 1988, 1989b,c), and stimulation of tyrosinase maturation in cells cultured in media containing high tyrosine levels. Importantly, stimulation of tyrosinase by MSH and factors raising intracellular cAMP levels that were accompanied by an increased formation of premelanosomes stage II, failed to induce melanin production and tyrosinase accumulated in the cisternae, tubules and vesicles of the TGN (Slominski et al., 1989c), indicating the absence of an intrinsic recognition message signaling fusion between tyrosinase-containing vesicles and premelanosomes. The crucial role of L-tyrosine in induction of the melanogenic apparatus was also confirmed by observations that: (i) L-DOPA, while being more potent in stimulation of tyrosinase activity and protein accumulation, was less efficient in induction of premelanosomes synthesis/assembly, leading to relatively lower melanin production; (ii) induction of melanin production was preceded by formation of premelanosomes and melanosomes; (iii) L-tyrosine induced translocation of lysosomal enzymes from TGN to granular melanosomes; (iv) L-tyrosine by itself induced formation of premelanosomes; and (v) L-tyrosine stimulated MSH receptor expression and activity (reviewed in Slominski and Paus, 1994, andSlominski et al., 2004). Because of these pleiotropic effects we proposed that L-tyrosine must have wider regulatory effects on the melanogenic system than a simple protection of the enzyme from degradation. In models in which premelanosomes are already formed (Halaban et al., 2001; Potterf et al., 1998; Rosemblat et al., 1998) binding of L-tyrosine to tyrosinase, allowing its proper folding and protection from degradation, could induce a chain of events affecting melanogenic activity. Here, because of the presence of a cysteine-rich domain, tyrosinase could participate in protein–protein interactions (Slominski and Paus, 1990, 1994; Slominski et al., 2004), a theory substantiated by the formation of multimeric complexes with other MRP (Orlow et al., 1994). Thus, tyrosinase after binding L-tyrosine could form regulatory complexes with other proteins, initiating an intracellular transport, processing and post-translational modifications with further stimulation of organellogenesis, organelle maturation and melanin synthesis. In this context, tyrosinase, a transmembrane protein, would act as a non-classical membrane-bound receptor that after binding of the ligand (L-tyrosine) could initiate complex intracellular processes, as initially proposed (Slominski and Paus, 1990, 1994) and discussed further (Slominski et al., 2004). In this context, tyrosinase and other MRP could also act as ‘receptors’ for DOPA by initiating protein–protein interactions, leading to modified phenotypic responses, consistent with the observation that both amino acids act through overlapping but partially distinct mechanisms (Slominski et al., 1988). In this context, future studies on a possible role of alternatively spliced isoforms of tyrosinase or other MRPs in the regulation of a melanocyte behavior are warranted (Slominski and Paus, 1994; Slominski et al., 2004). In other systems (corticotropin-releasing hormone receptors) it is already well documented that the generation of alternative receptors forms can have a significant effect on the interaction of the cell with its environment (Slominski et al., 2004).

One area that deserves further study is the hypothesized bioregulatory role of tyrosinase, based on its enzymatic activity that results in both generation and inactivation of biologically active L-DOPA and other intermediates of melanogenesis (Slominski and Paus, 1990; Slominski et al., 1989b). It also affects cellular metabolism through intermediates of melanin synthesis, melanogenesis-induced changes in oxidative potential of the cell or intracellular oxygen consumption (reviewed in Slominski et al., 2004; see metabolic non-receptor-mediated mechanism below). Strong support for this hypothesis has been provided recently by the Schallreuter group showing that hair follicle pigmentation can be affected by changes in H2O2-redox homeostasis via tyrosinase, its substrate supply and signal transduction (Schallreuter et al., 2011). The general implications of the above model at the tissue and systemic levels cannot be underestimated, taking into consideration that active melanogenesis can affect functions of other cell types, the skin barrier and adnexal activity and immune function (discussed in Gasparini et al., 2009; Slominski et al., 1993, 2004).

Finally, the general importance of tyrosinase aside from its role in melanogenesis is supported by findings that retinal network adaptation to bright light requires tyrosinase (Page-McCaw et al., 2004). I addition, tyrosinase may provide the TH-independent major pathway of peripheral dopamine synthesis in young, but not adult, mice (Eisenhofer et al., 2003).

Receptors for L-tyrosine and L-DOPA

The described hormone-like actions of L-tyrosine and L-DOPA in the pigmentary system strongly support the notion that specific receptors exist for these melanin precursors (Slominski and Paus, 1990, 1994; Slominski et al., 2004). Indeed, OA1 was recently identified as the receptor for L-DOPA in retinal pigment epithelium (RPE; Lopez et al., 2008), further substantiating previous work on defining receptors for this endogenously produced molecule (Slominski and Paus, 1994) and showing striking similarity to previously described properties of L-DOPA (Slominski and Pruski, 1992).

Such a role is consistent with dose- and time-dependent L-tyrosine and L-DOPA actions with a high degree of specificity, their stereo-selectivity for L-forms (Slominski and Costantino, 1991b; Slominski et al., 1988), and the presence of cell surface (L-tyrosine and L-DOPA) and nuclear (L-DOPA) binding sites, with binding being saturable, specific and reversible (Slominski, 1991; Slominski and Pruski, 1992). Cross-linking experiments of cells cultured in low tyrosine media also identified cell surface proteins specifically binding L-tyrosine with a molecular weight (MW) of approximately (±2 kD) 55, 48, 45, 40, 30 and <20 kDa (purified through tyrosine affinity chromatography; Slominski, 1991) and L-DOPA with a MW around 55, 30, 25 and <20 kDa (Slominski and Pruski, 1992). These proteins were different from adrenergic or dopaminergic receptors or amino acid carriers (Slominski, 1991; Slominski and Pruski, 1992). Some of the cross-linked membrane-bound proteins listed above (55, 48, 45 ± 2 kD) may indeed represent OA1, since the OA1 detected in melanocytes and melanoma cells presented as broad bands around 60 and for the glycosylated form and a doublet of 48 and 45 or 44 kD for the unglycosylated form (Samaraweera et al., 2001; Schiaffino et al., 1996). In this context, they could represent the predicted membrane-bound receptor(s) for L-DOPA and L-tyrosine, as either non-radioactive L-DOPA or L-tyrosine competed, mutually cross-linking either radiolabeled amino acid to cell surface proteins (Slominski, 1991; Slominski and Pruski, 1992). The requirement of culturing cells in low tyrosine media for OA1 expression on cell surface (Lopez et al., 2008) further supports the above hypothesis. It is interesting that L-tyrosine apparently induced redistribution of OA1 to intracellular compartments with no measurable second messenger activity, and L-DOPA induced PEDF production (Lopez et al., 2008). This further supports the original hypothesis of L-DOPA and L-tyrosine acting through overlapping but distinct mechanisms (Pawelek et al., 1988; Slominski et al., 1988) and L-DOPA acting as an endogenous ligand produced by tyrosinase regulating the melanogenic apparatus (Slominski and Pruski, 1992; Slominski et al., 1989b). Thus, it is possible that regulation of melanocytic functions by L-tyrosine and L-DOPA would also involve interaction with OA1, with L-DOPA acting as a high and L-tyrosine as low affinity ligands inducing overlapping but distinct mechanisms (Slominski et al., 1988) in a process that is not coupled to the direct changes in production of cAMP, cGMP or IP3 (Slominski et al., 1989c). One of the problems identified for future research is to clarify whether regulation of MSH receptor expression and activity by L-tyrosine, L-DOPA and P-DOPA (McLane et al., 1987; Pawelek et al., 1988; Slominski et al., 1989a) involves their interaction with OA1.

There is strong evidence that L-DOPA itself acts as a neurotransmitter, indicating the presence of membrane-bound L-DOPA receptors in neuronal cells (Misu and Goshima, 2006; Misu et al., 1996, 2003). Accordingly, it remains to be tested whether there is a structural and functional overlap between such DOPA receptors and OA1. The receptor-mediated functions of L-DOPA are further supported by L-tyrosine- and nicotine-induced synthesis of L-DOPA by human lymphocytes (Musso et al., 1997) and by reversible influx and efflux of L-DOPA in human epidermal Langerhans cells without its metabolism (Falck et al., 2004). There are also indications in mammalian systems that L-tyrosine may act as a neurotransmitter (reviewed in Slominski and Paus, 1990, 1994). Thus further effort to define L-tyrosine and L-DOPA receptors in neural crest-derived cells appears to be mandatory. Of broad interest should also be indications for the existence of receptors for L-tyrosine and L-DOPA in lower organisms (uni- or multicellular) (reviewed in Slominski and Paus, 1990).

The identification of nuclear binding sites for L-DOPA, but not L-tyrosine, in conjunction with its phenotypic activity described above suggests the existence of an additional nuclear receptor for this relatively short-lived molecule, allowing coordination of intracellular functions in an intracrine fashion but with a high level of specificity (Slominski and Paus, 1990, 1994; Slominski and Pruski, 1992). This justifies further efforts to test whether L-DOPA or its derivatives are interacting with already characterized receptor(s) from the nuclear receptor (NR) family or its isoform, with an orphan NR, for which the ligand remains to be identified.

Metabolic non-receptor-mediated mechanisms

There are several experimental premises indicating non-receptor mechanisms triggered by L-DOPA and/or products of its metabolism. For example, L-DOPA dramatically inhibited an in vitro phosphorylation of glycoproteins purified from melanoma cells in a dose-dependent manner, but had no detectable effect on whole protein extracts (Slominski and Friedrich, 1992). The inhibitory effect was dependent on the presence of Mn+2 in the incubation mixture, with significant inhibition seen only in glycoproteins purified from melanotic cells (Slominski and Friedrich, 1992). Since Mn+2 can readily stimulate L-DOPA oxidation in a dose-dependent manner, it is likely that the above effects are due to quinone production. Accordingly, in other model it has been found that L-DOPA and other catechols induce luciferase, driven by antioxidant response elements (ARE) in a Cu2+-dependent manner, indicating that their oxidation to quinones represents the rate-limiting step in the activation of transcription factor NF-E2 p45-related factor 2 (Nrf2), to mediate cellular adaptation to oxidants and electrophiles (Wang et al., 2010). However, not all effects of L-DOPA on phosphorylation cascade could be explained by this mechanism, as in the absence of Mn+2 in the reaction mixture, 5 μM L-DOPA stimulated phosphorylation of glycoproteins with an approximate MW of 118 and 68 kD (amelanotic cells) and of 150 and 50 kD (melanotic cells) (see figures 1 and 3 in Slominski and Friedrich, 1992), a phenomenon requiring further study.

Similarly, L-DOPA effects on cellular metabolism (Scislowski et al., 1984, 1985) are most likely mediated through intermediates of melanogenesis and its final product, melanin (Slominski and Paus, 1994; Slominski et al., 2004). For example, the L-DOPA-induced switch of the energy metabolism from aerobic to anaerobic glycolysis was attenuated by L-phenylalanine (Scislowski et al., 1984). Also, L-DOPA stimulation of the pentose phosphate pathway in isolated melanotic cells was consistent with generation of NADPH by isocitrate dehydrogenase and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, which stimulated the hydroxylation of L-tyrosine in the soluble fraction of melanomas (Scislowski and Slominski, 1983; Scislowski et al., 1985). Thus, L-DOPA-initiated/induced metabolic activity of melanosomes can regulate the catabolism of glucose and, in turn, the metabolic state of melanosomes can be influenced by glucose metabolic pathway (Scislowski et al., 1985; Slominski et al., 2004). These hypotheses have been further substantiated by the observation of dramatic changes in cellular metabolism in hamster and human malignant melanocytes in which melanogenesis was stimulated/induced by culture medium containing high levels of L-tyrosine (Li et al., 2009). Additional studies have shown that L-DOPA can reduce mitochondrial respiration in fibroblasts (Werner et al., 1994), can inhibit complex IV of the electron transport chain in human neuroblastoma (Pardo et al., 1995) and can inhibit gluconeogenesis in rabbit kidney-cortex tubules (Drozak et al., 2005).

Furthermore, L-DOPA through oxidation products and active melanogenesis can affect functions of other cells, the best documented of which is immunosuppressive activity (Slominski and Goodman-Snitkoff, 1992; Slominski et al., 2009). Possible mechanisms for this were discussed previously (Slominski et al., 2004). Recent data also indicate that melanogenic activity inhibits vitamin D receptor expression in melanomas (Brozyna et al., 2011). Finally, a role for both free and protein-DOPA in cellular antioxidant defenses was suggested (Nelson et al., 2010), and inhibition of lipoxygenase-mediated arachidonic acid oxygenation by DHI and to lesser degree by DHICA was demonstrated (Napolitano et al., 1993). Also, diffusible melanin-related metabolites are potent inhibitors of lipid peroxidation (Memoli et al., 1997), and 5-S-cysteinyldopa inhibits hydroxylation/oxidation reactions induced by the Fenton system (Napolitano et al., 1996). The potential cycling from the indole to the quinone form of L-DOPA and its derivatives may have direct effects on deactivation of reactive oxygen/nitrogen species or oxidation of intracellular proteins and lipids, most probably in a concentration-dependent manner (Tsang and Chung, 2009). Finally, free radicals preferentially hydroxylate protein-bound tyrosine, with its level increasing 5–10-fold during oxidative damage in vivo. Both free and protein-bound L-DOPA can trigger he expression of several antioxidant enzymes, including superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD) and NAD (P)H:quinone oxidoreductase (NQO1) as part of the reactive oxygen species (ROS) response (Nelson et al., 2007).

Concluding remarks

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA as positive regulators of melanogenesis
  5. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA modification
  6. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA stimulate MSH receptor activities
  7. Mechanism of action for L-tyrosine and L-DOPA
  8. Concluding remarks
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

Cumulative evidence was provided that L-tyrosine and L-DOPA, besides serving as substrates and intermediates of melanogenesis, also act as inducers and positive regulators of melanogenic pathway as well as regulators of other cellular functions directly or indirectly through specific receptor- or non-receptor-mediated processes (Figure 4).

image

Figure 4.  Proposed mechanism of L-tyrosine and L-DOPA regulation of the melanocyte phenotype. GPCR, membrane-bound receptors including G-protein coupled receptor; NR, nuclear receptors; Tyr, tyrosinase; TRP, tyrosinase-related proteins; PH, phenylalanine hydroxylase, TH, tyrosine hydroxylase. Solid lines show well established or most probable pathways, dashed line shows hypothetic interactions.

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The major conclusions are summarized below:

  • 1
     It is now well substantiated that L-tyrosine is a modifier of melanogenesis and melanocytic phenotype, and the nature and magnitude of effects are dependent on the genetic background of the organism and environmental factors, and can vary depending on the experimental model used.
  • 2
     Like L-tyrosine, L-DOPA or its more stable phosphoesters can regulate melanocyte function through overlapping but distinct mechanisms.
  • 3
     There is considerable evidence for the existence of L-tyrosine and L-DOPA receptors but their exact nature has yet to be determined.
  • 4
     Tyrosinase can act both as a regulatory protein interacting with other proteins and as a regulator of intra- and extracellular concentrations of biologically active molecules (L-tyrosine and L-DOPA).
  • 5
     L-DOPA can also regulate cell functions and cellular metabolism through non-receptor-mediated processes that act directly or through intermediates of melanogenesis generated by its non-enzymatic or enzymatic oxidation.

In the above model the substrate-induced (L-tyrosine and/or L-DOPA) melanogenic pathway would autoregulate itself as well as regulate the melanocyte functions through the activity of its structural or regulatory proteins and through intermediates of melanogenesis and melanin itself. Dissection of different regulatory and autoregulatory elements of this process may elucidate how similar processes (substrate-induced autoregulatory pathways) have evolved from prokaryotic or simple eukaryotic organisms to complex systems in vertebrates. In some of them, nutritional regulation may have been conserved, whereas in others, hormonal regulation has reached a high level of complexity. In this context, it is worth revisiting the two theories discussed previously, one of which postulated that receptors for amino acid-derived hormones arose from the receptors for those amino acids, and the other, that nuclear receptors evolved from primitive intracellular receptors binding nutritional factors or metabolic intermediates (reviewed and discussed in Slominski and Paus, 1990). The role of L-tyrosine and L-DOPA in the regulation of melanocyte functions will be an extremely fertile ground for future investigations, providing a revised view of the melanogenic pathway, its regulation and its role in the cellular and tissue ecosystem, with possible systemic implications (Ducrest et al., 2008; Panzella et al., 2011; Roulin and Ducrest, 2011; Slominski et al., 2004; Slominski, 2009).

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA as positive regulators of melanogenesis
  5. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA modification
  6. L-tyrosine and L-DOPA stimulate MSH receptor activities
  7. Mechanism of action for L-tyrosine and L-DOPA
  8. Concluding remarks
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References