Regulation of tyrosinase processing and trafficking by organellar pH and by proteasome activity

J Biol Chem. 2004 Feb 27;279(9):7971-81. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M309714200. Epub 2003 Nov 21.


Pigmentation of the hair, skin, and eyes of mammals results from a number of melanocyte-specific proteins that are required for the biosynthesis of melanin. Those proteins comprise the structural and enzymatic components of melanosomes, the membrane-bound organelles in which melanin is synthesized and deposited. Tyrosinase (TYR) is absolutely required for melanogenesis, but other melanosomal proteins, such as TYRP1, DCT, and gp100, also play important roles in regulating mammalian pigmentation. However, pigmentation does not always correlate with the expression of TYR mRNA/protein, and thus its function is also regulated at the post-translational level. Thus, TYR does not necessarily exist in a catalytically active state, and its post-translational activation could be an important control point for regulating melanin synthesis. In this study, we used a multidisciplinary approach to examine the processing and sorting of TYR through the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), Golgi apparatus, coated vesicles, endosomes and early melanosomes because those organelles hold the key to understanding the trafficking of TYR to melanosomes and thus the regulation of melanogenesis. In pigmented cells, TYR is trafficked through those organelles rapidly, but in amelanotic cells, TYR is retained within the ER and is eventually degraded by proteasomes. We now show that TYR can be released from the ER in the presence of protonophore or proton pump inhibitors which increase the pH of intracellular organelles, after which TYR is transported correctly to the Golgi, and then to melanosomes via the endosomal sorting system. The expression of TYRP1, which facilitates TYR processing in the ER, is down-regulated in the amelanotic cells; this is analogous to a hypopigmentary disease known as oculocutaneous albinism type 3 and further impairs melanin production. The sum of these results shows that organellar pH, proteasome activity, and down-regulation of TYRP1 expression all contribute to the lack of pigmentation in TYR-positive amelanotic melanoma cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Coated Vesicles / enzymology
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / enzymology
  • Endosomes / enzymology
  • Enzyme Stability
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic
  • Golgi Apparatus / enzymology
  • Homeostasis*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Melanins / biosynthesis
  • Melanoma
  • Melanoma, Amelanotic / enzymology*
  • Melanoma, Amelanotic / ultrastructure
  • Melanosomes / enzymology
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / analysis
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / genetics
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / metabolism*
  • Multienzyme Complexes / metabolism*
  • Oxidoreductases*
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Melanins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Multienzyme Complexes
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Oxidoreductases
  • TYRP1 protein, human
  • Tyrp1 protein, mouse
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex