Melanosomes are the specialized intracellular organelles of pigment cells devoted to the synthesis, storage and transport of melanin pigments, which are responsible for most visible pigmentation in mammals and other vertebrates. As a direct consequence, any genetic mutation resulting in alteration of melanosomal function, either because affecting pigment cell survival, migration and differentiation, or because interfering with melanosome biogenesis, transport and transfer to keratinocytes, is immediately translated into color variations of skin, fur, hair or eyes. Thus, over 100 genes and proteins have been identified as pigmentary determinants in mammals, providing us with a deep understanding of this biological system, which functions by using mechanisms and processes that have parallels in other tissues and organs. In particular, many genes implicated in melanosome biogenesis have been characterized, so that melanosomes represent an incredible source of information and a model for organelles belonging to the secretory pathway. Furthermore, the function of melanosomes can be associated with common physiological phenotypes, such as variation of pigmentation among individuals, and with rare pathological conditions, such as albinism, characterized by severe visual defects. Among the most relevant mechanisms operating in melanosome biogenesis are the signal transduction pathways mediated by two peculiar G protein-coupled receptors: the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R), involved in the fair skin/red hair phenotype and skin cancer; and OA1 (GPR143), whose loss-of-function results in X-linked ocular albinism. This review will focus on the most recent novelties regarding the functioning of these two receptors, by highlighting emerging signaling mechanisms and general implications for cell biology and pathology.
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