Pigment cells: a model for the study of organelle transport

Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 2003;19:469-91. doi: 10.1146/annurev.cellbio.19.111401.092937.


Eukaryotic organisms rely on intracellular transport to position organelles and other components within their cells. Pigment cells provide an excellent model to study organelle transport as they specialize in the translocation of pigment granules in response to defined chemical signals. Pigment cells of lower vertebrates have traditionally been used as a model for these studies because these cells transport pigment organelles in a highly coordinated fashion, are easily cultured and transfected, are ideal for microsurgery, and are good for biochemical experiments, including in vitro analysis of organelle motility. Many important properties of organelle transport, for example, the requirement of two cytoskeletal filaments (actin and microtubules), the motor proteins involved, and the mechanisms of their regulation and interactions, have been studied using pigment cells of lower vertebrates. Genetic studies of mouse melanocytes allowed the discovery of essential elements involved in organelle transport including the myosin-Va motor and its receptor and adaptor molecules on the organelle surface. Future studies of pigment cells will contribute to our understanding of issues such as the cooperation among multiple motor proteins and the mechanisms of regulation of microtubule motors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Cell Movement / physiology*
  • Cytoplasmic Streaming / physiology*
  • Cytoskeleton / physiology
  • Humans
  • Melanocytes / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / physiology
  • Organelles / physiology*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / physiology


  • Molecular Motor Proteins