Melanin i/ˈmɛlənɪn/ (Greek: μέλας – melas, “black, dark”) is a broad term for a group of natural pigments found in most organisms (arachnids are one of the few groups in which it has not been detected). Melanin is produced by theoxidation of the amino acid tyrosine, followed by polymerization. The pigment is produced in a specialized group of cells known as melanocytes.
There are three basic types of melanin: eumelanin, pheomelanin, andneuromelanin. The most common type of melanin is eumelanin. There are two types of eumelanin- brown eumelanin and black eumelanin. Pheomelanin is acysteine-containing red polymer of benzothiazine units largely responsible for red hair, among other pigmentation. Neuromelanin is found in the brain, though its function remains obscure.
In the skin, melanogenesis occurs after exposure to UV radiation, causing the skin to visibly tan. Melanin is an effective absorber of light; the pigment is able to dissipate over 99.9% of absorbed UV radiation. Because of this property, melanin is thought to protect skin cells from UVB radiation damage, reducing the risk of cancer. Furthermore, though exposure to UV radiation is associated with increased risk of malignant melanoma, a cancer of the melanocytes, studies have shown a lower incidence for skin cancer in individuals with more concentrated melanin, i.e. darker skin tone. Nonetheless, the relationship between skin pigmentation and photoprotection is still being clarified.
HumansEumelaninPheomelaninNeuromelaninOther organismsBiosynthetic pathwaysMicroscopic appearanceGenetic disorders and disease statesHuman adaptationPhysical properties and technological applicationsSee alsoReferencesExternal links
Albinism occurs when melanocytes produce little or no melanin. This albino girl is from Papua New Guinea.
In humans, melanin is the primary determinant of skin color. It is also found inhair, the pigmented tissue underlying the iris of the eye, and the stria vascularisof the inner ear. In the brain, tissues with melanin include the medulla and pigment-bearing neurons within areas of the brainstem, such as the locus coeruleus and the substantia nigra. It also occurs in the zona reticularis of theadrenal gland.
The melanin in the skin is produced by melanocytes, which are found in thebasal layer of the epidermis. Although, in general, human beings possess a similar concentration of melanocytes in their skin, the melanocytes in some individuals and ethnic groups produce variable amounts of melanin. Some humans have very little or no melanin synthesis in their bodies, a condition known as albinism.
Because melanin is an aggregate of smaller component molecules, there are many different types of melanin with differing proportions and bonding patterns of these component molecules. Both pheomelanin and eumelanin are found in human skin and hair, but eumelanin is the most abundant melanin in humans, as well as the form most likely to be deficient in albinism.