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Study finds that protein puts the brakes on melanin

A year and a half ago, researchers at Brown University found a molecular gas pedal for melanin production. Now they’ve found a brake. For scientists, the finding deepens not only the basic understanding of how eyes, skin and hair gain color, but also what perhaps can be done in disorders, such as albinism, when that doesn’t happen.

The study in the Nature journal Scientific Reports shows that pigmentation is reduced by the activity of “TPC2,” a protein that channels the flow of positive sodium ions out of the melanosomes, compartments that produce melanin in cells. When TPC2 lets those ions out, the inside of the melanosomes become more acidic, the researchers found, and that shuts down the enzyme that drives melanin production.

“We know now how TPC2 functions in these melanosome and can use this information to further understand how melanosomes function in normal conditions and how their function is perturbed by disease-causing mutations,” said corresponding author Elena Oancea, an associate professor of molecular pharmacology, physiology and biotechnology at Brown.

Green fluorescent protein marks where the protein TPC2 is located in a melaonsome
Green fluorescent protein marks where the protein TPC2 is located in a melaonsome
Image Credit: Oancea et. al./Brown University