Biosynthesis of fungal melanins and their importance for human pathogenic fungi

Fungal Genet Biol. 2003 Mar;38(2):143-58. doi: 10.1016/s1087-1845(02)00526-1.


For more than 40 years fungi have been known to produce pigments known as melanins. Predominantly these have been dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA)-melanin and dihydroxynaphthalene (DHN)-melanin. The biochemical and genetical analysis of the biosynthesis pathways have led to the identification of the genes and corresponding enzymes of the pathways. Only recently have both these types of melanin been linked to virulence in some human pathogenic and phytopathogenic fungi. The absence of melanin in human pathogenic and phytopathogenic fungi often leads to a decrease in virulence. In phytopathogenic fungi such as Magnaporthe grisea and Colletotrichum lagenarium, besides other possible functions in pathogenicity, DHN-melanin plays an essential role in generating turgor for plant appressoria to penetrate plant leaves. While the function of melanin in human pathogenic fungi such as Cryptococcus neoformans, Wangiella dermatitidis, Sporothrix schenckii, and Aspergillus fumigatus is less well defined, its role in protecting fungal cells has clearly been shown. Specifically, the ability of both DOPA- and DHN-melanins to quench free radicals is thought to be an important factor in virulence. In addition, in several fungi the production of fungal virulence factors, such as melanin, has been linked to a cAMP-dependent signaling pathway. Many of the components involved in the signaling pathway have been identified.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cryptococcus neoformans / metabolism
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / pathogenicity
  • Fungi / genetics
  • Fungi / metabolism*
  • Fungi / pathogenicity
  • Humans
  • Levodopa / metabolism
  • Melanins / biosynthesis*
  • Melanins / metabolism
  • Naphthols / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Virulence / physiology


  • 1,8-dihydroxynaphthalene melanin
  • Melanins
  • Naphthols
  • Levodopa