The untranslated side of hair and skin mammalian pigmentation: Beyond coding sequences

IUBMB Life. 2010 May;62(5):340-6. doi: 10.1002/iub.318.


For several decades, tremendous advances in studying skin and hair pigmentation of mammals have been made using Mendelian genetics principles. A number of loci and their associated traits have been extensively examined, crossings performed, and phenotypes well documented. Continuously improving PCR techniques allowed the molecular cloning and sequencing of the first pigmentation genes at the end of the 20th century, a period followed by an intense effort to detect and describe polymorphisms in the coding regions and correlate allelic combinations with the observed melanogenic phenotypes. However, a number of phenotypes and biological events could not be elucidated solely by analysis of the coding regions of genes. Messenger RNA isolation, characterization and quantification techniques allowed groups to move ahead and investigate molecular mechanisms whose secrets lay within the noncoding regions of pigmentation genes transcripts such as MC1R, ASIP, or Mitf. The untranslated elements contain specific nucleotidic sequences and structures that dramatically influence the mRNA half-life and processing thus impacting protein translation and melanin production. As we are progressively uncovering the complex processes regulating melanocyte biology, unraveling complete mRNA structures and understanding mechanisms beyond coding regions has become critical.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 5' Untranslated Regions / genetics
  • Agouti Signaling Protein / genetics
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Hair Color / genetics*
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor / genetics
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / genetics
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1 / genetics
  • Skin Pigmentation / genetics*
  • Untranslated Regions / genetics*


  • 5' Untranslated Regions
  • Agouti Signaling Protein
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1
  • Untranslated Regions
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase