Current challenges in understanding melanogenesis: bridging chemistry, biological control, morphology, and function

Pigment Cell Melanoma Res. 2009 Oct;22(5):563-79. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-148X.2009.00610.x. Epub 2009 Jul 21.


Melanin is a natural pigment produced within organelles, melanosomes, located in melanocytes. Biological functions of melanosomes are often attributed to the unique chemical properties of the melanins they contain; however, the molecular structure of melanins, the mechanism by which the pigment is produced, and how the pigment is organized within the melanosome remains to be fully understood. In this review, we examine the current understanding of the initial chemical steps in the melanogenesis. Most natural melanins are mixtures of eumelanin and pheomelanin, and so after presenting the current understanding of the individual pigments, we focus on the mixed melanin systems, with a critical eye towards understanding how studies on individual melanin do and do not provide insight in the molecular aspects of their structures. We conclude the review with a discussion of important issues that must be addressed in future research efforts to more fully understand the relationship between molecular and functional properties of this important class of natural pigments.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Benzoquinones / chemistry
  • Benzoquinones / metabolism
  • Benzothiazoles / chemistry
  • Benzothiazoles / metabolism
  • Cysteinyldopa / chemistry
  • Cysteinyldopa / metabolism
  • Dihydroxyphenylalanine / analogs & derivatives
  • Dihydroxyphenylalanine / chemistry
  • Dihydroxyphenylalanine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Iris / chemistry
  • Iris / ultrastructure
  • Melanins* / chemistry
  • Melanins* / metabolism
  • Melanocytes / metabolism
  • Melanosomes / chemistry
  • Melanosomes / metabolism
  • Molecular Structure


  • Benzoquinones
  • Benzothiazoles
  • Melanins
  • pheomelanin
  • eumelanin
  • Cysteinyldopa
  • Dihydroxyphenylalanine
  • dopaquinone