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J Theor Biol. 2001 Jul 21;211(2):101-13.

The antimicrobial properties of melanocytes, melanosomes and melanin and the evolution of black skin.

Erratum in

  • J Theor Biol 2001 Sep 7;212(1):128.


A biological issue that has not been satisfactorily resolved is the role of melanin in skin and other animal tissues. A hypothesis is outlined here to account for the evolution of black skin and the ubiquity of melanin in vertebrate tissues. Evidence is presented that melanization of skin and other tissues forms an important component of the innate immune defense system. A major function of melanocytes, melanosomes and melanin in skin is to inhibit the proliferation of bacterial, fungal and other parasitic infections of the dermis and epidermis. This function can potentially explain (a) the latitudinal gradient in melanization of human skin; (b) the fact that melanocyte and melanization patterns among different parts of the vertebrate body do not reflect exposure to radiation; (c) provide a theoretical framework for recent empirical findings concerning the antimicrobial activity of melanocytes and melanosomes and their regulation by known mediators of inflammatory responses.

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