Properties and function of the ocular melanin--a photobiophysical view

J Photochem Photobiol B. 1992 Feb 28;12(3):215-58. doi: 10.1016/1011-1344(92)85027-r.


This paper reviews the biosynthesis and physicochemical properties of the ocular melanin. Age-related changes of melanin granules and the corresponding formation of lipofuscin pigments in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) are also described. Adverse photoreactions of the eye and, in particular, light-induced damage to the RPE-retina are reviewed in relation to the ocular pigmentation. A hypothesis on the photoprotective role of the RPE melanin is presented that is based on the ability of the cellular melanin to bind redoxactive metal ions. Since bound-to-melanin metal ions are expected to be less damaging to the pigment cells, it is proposed that sequestration of heavy metal ions by the RPE melanin is an efficient detoxifying mechanism. It is postulated that oxidative degradation of RPE melanin may lower its metal-binding capability and decrease its anti-oxidant efficiency. Cellular and environmental factors that may contribute to possible oxidative damage of the RPE melanin are discussed in connection with the etiology of age-related macular degeneration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Melanins / chemistry
  • Melanins / physiology*
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / physiology*
  • Retina / growth & development
  • Retina / physiology*


  • Melanins