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Mol Biol Cell. 2009 Mar;20(5):1464-77. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E08-07-0710. Epub 2008 Dec 30.

Localization to mature melanosomes by virtue of cytoplasmic dileucine motifs is required for human OCA2 function.

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  • 1Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Oculocutaneous albinism type 2 is caused by defects in the gene OCA2, encoding a pigment cell-specific, 12-transmembrane domain protein with homology to ion permeases. The function of the OCA2 protein remains unknown, and its subcellular localization is under debate. Here, we show that endogenous OCA2 in melanocytic cells rapidly exits the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and thus does not behave as a resident ER protein. Consistently, exogenously expressed OCA2 localizes within melanocytes to melanosomes, and, like other melanosomal proteins, localizes to lysosomes when expressed in nonpigment cells. Mutagenized OCA2 transgenes stimulate melanin synthesis in OCA2-deficient cells when localized to melanosomes but not when specifically retained in the ER, contradicting a proposed primary function for OCA2 in the ER. Steady-state melanosomal localization requires a conserved consensus acidic dileucine-based sorting motif within the cytoplasmic N-terminal region of OCA2. A second dileucine signal within this region confers steady-state lysosomal localization in melanocytes, suggesting that OCA2 might traverse multiple sequential or parallel trafficking routes. The two dileucine signals physically interact in a differential manner with cytoplasmic adaptors known to function in trafficking other proteins to melanosomes. We conclude that OCA2 is targeted to and functions within melanosomes but that residence within melanosomes may be regulated by secondary or alternative targeting to lysosomes.

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