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Int Rev Cell Mol Biol. 2009;272:245-302. doi: 10.1016/S1937-6448(08)01606-7.

New insights into melanosome transport in vertebrate pigment cells.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois, USA.


Pigment cells of lower vertebrates provide an excellent model to study organelle transport as they specialize in the translocation of pigment granules in response to defined chemical cues. This review will focus on the well-studied melanophore/melanocyte systems in fish, amphibians, and mammals. We will describe the roles of melanin, melanophores, and melanocytes in animals, current views on how the three motor proteins dynein, kinesin, and myosin-V are involved in melanosome transport along microtubules and actin filaments, and how signal transduction pathways regulate the activities of the motors to achieve aggregation and dispersion of melanosomes. We will also describe how melanosomes are transferred to surrounding skin cells in amphibians and mammals. Comparative studies have revealed that the ability of physiological color change is lost during evolution while the importance of morphological color change, mainly via transfer of pigment to surrounding skin cells, increases. In humans, pigment mainly has a role in protection against ultraviolet radiation, but also perhaps in the immune system.

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