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Pigment Cell Res. 2004 Apr;17(2):191-202.

The pigmented life of a redhead.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology, University of Lund, Lund, Sweden.


As a redhead I have had a personal interest in red hair, freckles and sunburns since childhood. An observation of a formaldehyde-induced fluorescence in human epidermal melanocytes initiated my scientific interest in these cells. Prota and Nicolaus demonstrated that oxidation products of cysteinyldopas are the main components of pheomelanin. Our identification of 5-S-cysteinyldopa as the source of formaldehyde-induced fluorescence of normal and pathological melanocytes started a series of investigations into this amino acid, enzymatic and non-enzymatic oxidation of catecholic compounds and the metabolism of thiols. All melanocytes with functioning tyrosinase produce cysteinyldopas and the levels of 5-S-cysteinyldopa in serum and urine are related to the size and pigment forming activity of the melanocyte population. The determination of 5-S-cysteinyldopa in serum or urine is a sensitive diagnostic method in the detection of melanoma metastasis. Some non-specific formation of cysteinyldopa is present in the body, as demonstrated by 5-S-cysteinyldopa in individuals with tyrosinase-negative albinism.

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