Turnover of pigment granules: cyclic catabolism and anabolism of ommochromes within epidermal cells

Tissue Cell. 2009 Dec;41(6):421-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tice.2009.05.002. Epub 2009 Jul 23.


Ommochromes are end products of the tryptophan metabolism in arthropods. While the anabolism of ommochromes has been well studied, the catabolism is totally unknown. In order to study it, we used the crab-spider Misumena vatia, which is able to change color reversibly in a few days, from yellow to white and back. Ommochromes is the only pigment class responsible for the body coloration in this animal. The aim of this study was to analyze the fine structure of the epidermal cells in bleaching spiders, in an attempt to correlate morphological changes with the fate of the pigment granules. Central to the process of bleaching is the lysis of the ommochrome granules. In the same cell, intact granules and granules in different degradation stages are found. The degradation begins with granule autolysis. Some components are extruded in the extracellular space and others are recycled via autophagy. Abundant glycogen appears associated to granulolysis. In a later stage of bleaching, ommochrome progranules, typical of white spiders, appear in the distal zone of the same epidermal cell. Catabolism and anabolism of pigment granules thus take place simultaneously in spider epidermal cells. A cyclic pathway of pigment granules formation and degradation, throughout a complete cycle of color change is proposed, together with an explanation for this turnover, involving photoprotection against UV by ommochromes metabolites. The presence of this turnover for melanins is discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brachyura / metabolism*
  • Brachyura / ultrastructure
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / metabolism*
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / ultrastructure
  • Epidermis / metabolism*
  • Epidermis / ultrastructure
  • Phenothiazines / metabolism*
  • Pigmentation / physiology*


  • Phenothiazines
  • ommochrome