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Am J Dermatopathol. 2005 Apr;27(2):96-101.

Light microscopic, immunohistochemical, and ultrastructural alterations in patients with melasma.

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Vitiligo and Pigmentation Institute of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90004, USA.


Despite new technologies, few studies have assessed the histologic alterations in patients with melasma. Using current technologies, the present study was designed to re-evaluate the light microscopic, immunohistochemical, and ultrastructural changes of the hyperpigmented and adjacent normal skin of patients with melasma. Twenty-one patients were included in this study. Two millimeter punch biopsies were taken from the hyperpigmented and adjacent normal skin of the face. The integrity of the epidermis and dermis was assessed by light microscopy, computer-assisted image analysis, immunohistochemistry, and electron microscopy. Stains included hematoxylin-eosin and Fontana-Masson for melanin detection. Immunostaining was performed using Mel-5 antibody and CD1a antibody as markers for melanin and Langerhans cells, respectively. However, mild lymphohistiocytic infiltrates were present in 75% of the hyperpigmented areas. The areas of hyperpigmentation showed increased deposition of melanin in the epidermis and dermis of all cases. There was a statistically significant increase in the content of epidermal melanin. There were no quantitative increases in melanocytes in the hyperpigmented areas of skin. However, the melanocytes in the hyperpigmented areas were larger, intensely stained cells with very prominent dendrites. Electron microscopy revealed more melanosomes in keratinocytes, melanocytes, and dendrites in the involved skin in comparison to the uninvolved skin. The results of this study suggest that melasma is a consequence of specific hyperfunctional melanocytes that cause excessive melanin deposition in the epidermis and dermis.

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