Mammalian melanocytes can produce two basic types of melanin, eumelanin and pheomelanin, within discrete organelles termed melanosomes. The physiological signals that regulate this switch are extrinsic to the melanocyte, and include alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone and the agouti protein. Tyrosinase, encoded at the albino locus, is the enzyme essential for the synthesis of both types of melanin, but other tyrosinase-related proteins (e.g. TRP1 encoded at the brown locus and TRP2 encoded at the slaty locus) regulate eumelanogenesis catalytically at steps distal to tyrosinase (as 5,6-dihydroxyindole-2-carboxylic acid oxidase and DOPAchrome tautomerase, respectively). The silver protein is another melanosomal protein, and although it has some limited homology to the tyrosinase-related proteins, it does not have any known enzymatic function and probably serves as a structural matrix protein. The role of each of those melanosomal proteins in pheomelanogenesis, however, is still unclear. In this study, we have compared the expression and catalytic functions of those proteins in pheomelanic and eumelanic hair bulb melanocytes. There was no detectable expression of TRP1 or TRP2, or either of their enzymatic activities, in hair bulbs of lethal yellow (Ay/a) newborn mice, and tyrosinase activity was present at a reduced level compared to that found in hair bulbs of black (a/a) newborn mice. Similar results were observed in regenerating hair bulbs of adult lethal yellow mice and in hair bulbs of 5- to 7-day-old agouti mice (A/A), an age where pheomelanin is produced predominantly. Expression of the silver protein was similarly not observed in hair bulbs of the pheomelanic mice.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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