Melanosome Biogenesis in the Pigmentation of Mammalian Skin

Integr Comp Biol. 2021 Oct 14;61(4):1517-1545. doi: 10.1093/icb/icab078.


Melanins, the main pigments of the skin and hair in mammals, are synthesized within membrane-bound organelles of melanocytes called melanosomes. Melanosome structure and function are determined by a cohort of resident transmembrane proteins, many of which are expressed only in pigment cells and localize specifically to melanosomes. Defects in the genes that encode melanosome-specific proteins or components of the machinery required for their transport in and out of melanosomes underlie various forms of ocular or oculocutaneous albinism, characterized by hypopigmentation of the hair, skin, and eyes and by visual impairment. We review major components of melanosomes, including the enzymes that catalyze steps in melanin synthesis from tyrosine precursors, solute transporters that allow these enzymes to function, and structural proteins that underlie melanosome shape and melanin deposition. We then review the molecular mechanisms by which these components are biosynthetically delivered to newly forming melanosomes-many of which are shared by other cell types that generate cell type-specific lysosome-related organelles. We also highlight unanswered questions that need to be addressed by future investigation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Mammals
  • Melanins
  • Melanocytes*
  • Melanosomes*
  • Pigmentation


  • Melanins