The slaty (Dctslt) mutation is known to reduce the activity of dopachrome tautomerase in melanocytes and to reduce the melanin content in the skin, hairs, and eyes. The slaty gene is known to be important for maximizing melanin deposition in melanosomes. However, it was not known whether the slaty mutation affects the morphology of melanosomes. Moreover, it was unknown whether melanosome development is modulated by melanogenic factors. In this study, the characteristics of melanosomes of slaty melanocytes in serum-free primary culture were investigated in detail under the electron microscope. In slaty melanocytes, melanosome maturation was blocked at stage III, and numerous spherical melanosomes with globular depositions of pigment in addition to elliptical melanosomes were observed. L-tyrosine (Tyr), the starting material of melanin synthesis, is known to stimulate melanin synthesis. To clarify whether L-Tyr restores the reduced production of melanin, L-Tyr was added to the culture medium and tested for its melanogenic effect. L-Tyr greatly increased the number and percentage of mature stage IV melanosomes. Moreover, L-Tyr increased elliptical melanosomes, but decreased spherical melanosomes. These results suggest that the slaty mutation inhibits the development of elliptical stage IV melanosomes, and that L-Tyr restores the development of elliptical stage IV melanosomes. L-Tyr seems to restore both the morphology and maturation of melanosomes affected by the slaty mutation.
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