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Pigment Cell Res. 1998 Apr;11(2):120-6.

Chemical degradation of melanins: application to identification of dopamine-melanin.

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Fujita Health University School of Health Sciences, Toyoake, Aichi, Japan.


Melanocytes produce two chemically distinct types of melanin pigments, eumelanins and pheomelanins. These pigments can be quantitatively analyzed by acidic KMnO4 oxidation or reductive hydrolysis with hydriodic acid (HI) to form pyrrole-2,3,5-tricarboxylic acid (PTCA) or aminohydroxyphenylalanine (AHP), respectively. Dark brown melanin-like pigments are also widespread in nature, for example, in the substantia nigra of humans and primates (neuromelanin), in butterfly wings and in the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans. To characterize such diverse types of melanins, we have improved the alkaline H2O2 oxidation method of Napolitano et al. (Tetrahedron, 51:5913-5920, 1995) and re-examined the HI hydrolysis method of Wakamatsu et al. (Neurosci. Lett., 131:57-60, 1991). The results obtained with H2O2 oxidation show that 1) pyrrole-2,3-dicarboxylic acid (PDCA), a specific marker of 5,6-dihydroxyindole units in melanins, is produced in yields ten times higher than by acidic KMnO4 oxidation, and 2) PTCA is artificially produced from pheomelanins. The results with HI hydrolysis show that dopamine-melanin produces a 1:1 mixture of 3-amino and 4-amino isomers of aminohydroxyphenylethylamine, while the isomer ratio is about 0.2 in melanins prepared from dopamine and cysteine. These results indicate that alkaline H2O2 oxidation is useful in characterizing synthetic and natural eumelanins and that reductive hydrolysis with HI can be applied to analyzing oxidation products of dopamine such as neuromelanin.

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