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Cell Tissue Res. 2010 Mar;339(3):551-60. doi: 10.1007/s00441-009-0920-9. Epub 2010 Feb 6.

The classical pathway of melanogenesis is not essential for melanin synthesis in the adult retinal pigment epithelium.

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Department for Experimental Vitreoretinal Surgery, University Eye Hospital Tübingen, Germany.


Premelanosomes are presumed to be essential for melanogenesis in melanocytes and pre-natal retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells. We analysed melanin synthesis in adenoviral-transduced tyrosinase-gene-expressing amelanotic RPE (ARPE) 19 cells to determine whether premelanosome formation is needed for post-natal melanogenesis. The synthesis of melanogenic proteins and melanin granules was investigated by immunocytochemistry and light and electron microscopy. The occurrence of tyrosinase was analysed ultrastructurally by dihydroxyphenylalanine histochemistry. The viability of transduced cell cultures was examined via MTT assay. We found active tyrosinase in small granule-like vesicles throughout the cytoplasm and in the endoplasmic reticulum and nuclear membrane. Tyrosinase was also associated with multi-vesicular and multi-lamellar organelles. Typical premelanosomes, structural protein PMEL17, tyrosinase-related protein 1 and classic melanosomal stages I-IV were not detected. Instead, melanogenesis took place inside multi-vesicular and multi-lamellar bodies of unknown origin. Viability was not affected up to 10 days after transduction. We thus demonstrate a pathway of melanin formation lacking typical hallmarks of melanogenesis.

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