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J Invest Dermatol. 1991 Sep;97(3):395-404.

Structural aberration of the rough endoplasmic reticulum and melanosome compartmentalization in long-term cultures of melanocytes from vitiligo patients.

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Department of Dermatology, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, OH 45267-0592.


Long-term cultures of melanocytes were established from 14 subjects with vitiligo and from five normal controls and analyzed ultrastructurally. Cultured melanocytes from 78.6% of the vitiligo patients demonstrated abnormalities that consisted of 1) dilation of the rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER), 2) circular RER profiles, and/or 3) membrane bound compartments of melanosomes. Cultured melanocytes from control subjects were predominantly normal with only one of the normal cultures demonstrating minimal circular RER profiles. The three unique abnormal structures in cultured vitiligo melanocytes were not always concomitantly expressed and could not be associated with any specific clinical feature of vitiligo. Quantitative analysis of the RER demonstrated that the profiles of dilated RER in cultured vitiligo melanocytes expressed a significant 1.5-2.8-times increase in mean cisternal area over cultured control melanocytes (i.e., 5.41-9.92 microns 2 versus 3.53 microns 2, respectively). The cisterna of the dilated RER profiles frequently contained floccular material that appeared to originate from the ribosomes, an indication that the floccular material may be translation products. The dilation of RER in melanocytes from the same patient persisted through repeated subculturing for up to 14.75 months. Epidermal melanocytes in biopsied skin from a patient whose cultured melanocytes were aberrant also demonstrated dilated and circular RER profiles. These results demonstrate that melanocytes from most vitiligo patients express an innate defect when cultured. Although this defect does not appear to be cytotoxic in vitro, this abnormality may be the primary defect that elicits melanocyte destruction in vivo.

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