Melanin in human irides of different color and age of donors

Pigment Cell Res. 2005 Dec;18(6):454-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0749.2005.00268.x.


Melanin is the main chromophore of the human iris. This pigment is considered to be the most important factor that determines the color of the irides. Previous studies based mainly on chemical degradation methods showed that brown irides contain more melanin than blue ones. In our study, we used electron spin resonance (ESR) spectroscopy to detect and characterize melanin free radical centers and associated iron in human irides. Based on this method, we determined the amount of melanin in the irides and the relative content of iron in iridial melanin as a function of their color, shade, and the age of their donors. Chemical degradation of iridial homogenates enabled us to characterize the structure of eumelanin and determine the content of pheomelanin present in human and bovine irides. The ESR amplitude, the normalized intensity obtained by double integration of the ESR signal of melanin, and the content of the pigment in the irides depended on color and shade of the eyes being 40% higher in the brown group of the irides compared with all other groups. On the other hand, the relative iron content normalized to the melanin content in light blue irides showed a small decrease with age of donors. Melanin in human and bovine irides was mostly composed of eumelanin, and pheomelanin content was of the order of a few percent. Although some differences in the structure of eumelanin present in the human and bovine irides are possible, the results obtained in this study suggest that human irides contain eumelanin with very similar chemical properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Child
  • Electron Spin Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Eye Color*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Iris / chemistry*
  • Iron / analysis
  • Melanins / analysis*
  • Middle Aged
  • Tissue Donors


  • Melanins
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Iron