Pigment cell signalling for physiological color change

Comp Biochem Physiol A Physiol. 1997 Dec;118(4):1135-44. doi: 10.1016/s0300-9629(97)00045-5.


The cellular signalling pathways participating in physiological color change are reviewed, particularly in crustaceans, teleosts, amphibians, and reptiles. This review is an attempt to summarize what is known and to raise some hypotheses about basic questions still to be elucidated. The first picture that emerges from the literature is that the transduction pathways are identical in the various types of chromatophores of a single species, except for the iridophore. The cAMP-dependent pathway has been well conserved throughout evolution: cAMP increase is the pigment dispersion signal whereas the nucleotide decrease leads to granule aggregation. On the other hand, the Ca(-2)-dependent pathways evoke pigment aggregation in teleosts and crustaceans, and dispersion in amphibians and probably reptiles as well. Another interesting point is the ultimate convergence of the signalling pathways of different agonists inducing the same response in one chromatophore type. A hypothesis is raised about why different chromatophores behave differently in the absence of agonists, that is, why some are punctate, whereas others are stellate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Pigmentation / physiology*
  • Pigments, Biological / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Pigments, Biological