Human hair melanins: what we have learned and have not learned from mouse coat color pigmentation

Pigment Cell Melanoma Res. 2011 Feb;24(1):63-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-148X.2010.00755.x.


Hair pigmentation is one of the most conspicuous phenotypes in humans. Melanocytes produce two distinct types of melanin pigment: brown to black, indolic eumelanin and yellow to reddish brown, sulfur-containing pheomelanin. Biochemically, the precursor tyrosine and the key enzyme tyrosinase and the tyrosinase-related proteins are involved in eumelanogenesis, while only the additional presence of cysteine is necessary for pheomelanogenesis. Other important proteins involved in melanogenesis include P protein, MATP protein, α-MSH, agouti signaling protein (ASIP), MC1R (the receptor for MSH and ASIP), and SLC7A11, a cystine transporter. Many studies have examined the effects of loss-of-function mutations of those proteins on mouse coat color pigmentation. In contrast, much less is known regarding the effects of mutations of the corresponding proteins on human hair pigmentation except for MC1R polymorphisms that lead to pheomelanogenesis. This perspective will discuss what we have/have not learned from mouse coat color pigmentation, with special emphasis on the significant roles of pH and the level of cysteine in melanosomes in controlling melanogenesis. Based on these data, a hypothesis is proposed to explain the diversity of human hair pigmentation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hair / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Melanins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Skin Pigmentation* / genetics


  • Melanins