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What Is the Function of Melanin?

What Is the Function of Melanin? Abstract An informal survey of my colleagues revealed that most dermatologists believe the primary function of melanin in humans is to act as a sunscreen to protect us from ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight; the leading textbooks of dermatology support this notion. Recently, while reading materials outside of our specialty, I was surprised to find that dermatologists might be alone in the scientific community in their acceptance of this view. Furthermore, the evidence for melanin having developed to serve other functions appeared to be as strong or stronger than the evidence that it is primarily a sunscreen. Interestingly, a decade or so ago, there was considerable discussion about this subject among dermatologists who had an interest in photobiology,1,2 but, recently, we appear to have accepted as dogma that melanin is a sunscreen. Dogma, in any discipline, should be examined periodically. With many recent advances in the biology of melanin, it References 1. Blois MS, Fitzpatrick TB, Daniels F, et al: Panel discussion on the functions of melanin , in Urbach F (ed): The Biological Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation . New York, Pergamon Press, 1969, pp 325-326. 2. Daniels F, Post PW, Johnson EB: Theories of the role of pigment in the evolution of human races , in Riley V (ed): Pigmentation . New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1972, pp 13-22. 3. Home E: On the black rete mucosum of the Negro, being a defence against the scorching effect of the sun's rays . Philos Trans R Soc Lond Biol 1820;110:1-7.Crossref 4. Kretzoi M: New ramapithecines and Pliopithecus from the Lower Pliocene of Rudabanya in north-eastern Hungary . Nature 1975;257:578-581.Crossref 5. Kennedy GE: Hominoid habitat shifts in the Miocene . Nature 1978;271:11-12.Crossref 6. Lovejoy CO: The origin of man . Science 1981;211:341-350.Crossref 7. Hamilton WJ: Life's Color Code . New York, McGraw-Hill Book Co, 1973. 8. Blum HF: Does the melanin pigment of human skin have adaptive value ? Q Rev Biol 1961;36:50-63. 9. Okoro AN: Albinism in Nigeria . Br J Dermatol 1975;92:485492.Crossref 10. Menon IA, Persad S, Ranadive NS, et al: Effects of ultraviolet-visible irradiation in the presence of melanin isolated from human black or red hair upon Ehrlich ascites carcinoma cells . Cancer Res 1983;43:3165-3169. 11. Harsanyi ZP, Post PW, Brinkmann JP, et al: Mutagenicity of melanin from human red hair . Experientia 1980;36:291-292.Crossref 12. Johnson EB, Mandell G, Daniels F: Melanin and cellular reactions to ultraviolet radiation . Nature New Biol 1972;235:147149. 13. Quevedo WC, Fitzpatrick TB, Pathak MA, et al: Light and skin color , in Pathak MA, Harber LC, Seiji M (eds): Sunlight and Man . Tokyo, University of Tokyo Press, 1974, pp 165-194. 14. Rosdahl IK, Szabo G: Mitotic activity of epidermal melanocytes in UV-irradiated mouse skin . J Invest Dermatol 1978;70:143148.Crossref 15. Soffen GA, Blum HF: Quantitative measurements of changes in mouse skin following a single dose of ultraviolet light . Cell Comp Physiol 1961;58:81-94.Crossref 16. Miescher G: Das Problem des Lichtschutzes und der Lichtgewöhnung . Strahlentherapie 1930;35:403-443. 17. Kaidbey KH, Kligman AM: Sunburn protection by longwave ultraviolet radiation-induced pigmentation . Arch Dermatol 1978; 114:46-48.Crossref 18. Blum HF: The physiological effects of sunlight on man . Physiol Rev 1945;25:483-530. 19. Corth R: What is natural light ? Lighting Design and Application 1983;13:34-42. 20. Federer CA, Tanner CB: Spectral distribution of light in the forest . Ecology 1966;47:555-560.Crossref 21. Hughes A: The topography of vision in mammals of contrasting life style: Comparative optics of retinal organization , in Crescitelli F (ed): Handbook of Sensory Physiology . New York, Springer-Verlag Inc, 1977, pp 613-756. 22. Hughes A: A comparison of retinal ganglion cell topography in the plains and tree kangaroo . J Physiol 1974;244:61P-63P. 23. Peckham RH, Harley RD: The effect of sunglasses in protecting retinal sensitivity . Am J Ophthalmol 1951;34:14991507. 24. Baker PT: Racial differences in heat tolerance . Am J Phys Anthropol 1958;16:287-305.Crossref 25. Hammel HT: Terrestrial animals in cold: Recent studies of primitive man , in Handbook of Physiology, Adaptation to the Environment . Washington, DC, American Physiological Society, 1964, pp 413-434. 26. Guthrie RD: Evolution of human threat display organs , in Dobzhansky T, Hecht MK, Steere WC (eds): Evolutionary Biology . New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1970, pp 257-302. 27. Wurtman RJ: The effects of light on the human body . Sci Am 1975;233:68-77.Crossref http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Archives of Dermatology American Medical Association

What Is the Function of Melanin?

Archives of Dermatology , Volume 121 (9) – Sep 1, 1985

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Publisher
American Medical Association
Copyright
Copyright © 1985 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved.
ISSN
0003-987X
eISSN
1538-3652
DOI
10.1001/archderm.1985.01660090074017
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Abstract An informal survey of my colleagues revealed that most dermatologists believe the primary function of melanin in humans is to act as a sunscreen to protect us from ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight; the leading textbooks of dermatology support this notion. Recently, while reading materials outside of our specialty, I was surprised to find that dermatologists might be alone in the scientific community in their acceptance of this view. Furthermore, the evidence for melanin having developed to serve other functions appeared to be as strong or stronger than the evidence that it is primarily a sunscreen. Interestingly, a decade or so ago, there was considerable discussion about this subject among dermatologists who had an interest in photobiology,1,2 but, recently, we appear to have accepted as dogma that melanin is a sunscreen. Dogma, in any discipline, should be examined periodically. With many recent advances in the biology of melanin, it References 1. Blois MS, Fitzpatrick TB, Daniels F, et al: Panel discussion on the functions of melanin , in Urbach F (ed): The Biological Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation . New York, Pergamon Press, 1969, pp 325-326. 2. Daniels F, Post PW, Johnson EB: Theories of the role of pigment in the evolution of human races , in Riley V (ed): Pigmentation . New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1972, pp 13-22. 3. Home E: On the black rete mucosum of the Negro, being a defence against the scorching effect of the sun's rays . Philos Trans R Soc Lond Biol 1820;110:1-7.Crossref 4. Kretzoi M: New ramapithecines and Pliopithecus from the Lower Pliocene of Rudabanya in north-eastern Hungary . Nature 1975;257:578-581.Crossref 5. Kennedy GE: Hominoid habitat shifts in the Miocene . Nature 1978;271:11-12.Crossref 6. Lovejoy CO: The origin of man . Science 1981;211:341-350.Crossref 7. Hamilton WJ: Life's Color Code . New York, McGraw-Hill Book Co, 1973. 8. Blum HF: Does the melanin pigment of human skin have adaptive value ? Q Rev Biol 1961;36:50-63. 9. Okoro AN: Albinism in Nigeria . Br J Dermatol 1975;92:485492.Crossref 10. Menon IA, Persad S, Ranadive NS, et al: Effects of ultraviolet-visible irradiation in the presence of melanin isolated from human black or red hair upon Ehrlich ascites carcinoma cells . Cancer Res 1983;43:3165-3169. 11. Harsanyi ZP, Post PW, Brinkmann JP, et al: Mutagenicity of melanin from human red hair . Experientia 1980;36:291-292.Crossref 12. Johnson EB, Mandell G, Daniels F: Melanin and cellular reactions to ultraviolet radiation . Nature New Biol 1972;235:147149. 13. Quevedo WC, Fitzpatrick TB, Pathak MA, et al: Light and skin color , in Pathak MA, Harber LC, Seiji M (eds): Sunlight and Man . Tokyo, University of Tokyo Press, 1974, pp 165-194. 14. Rosdahl IK, Szabo G: Mitotic activity of epidermal melanocytes in UV-irradiated mouse skin . J Invest Dermatol 1978;70:143148.Crossref 15. Soffen GA, Blum HF: Quantitative measurements of changes in mouse skin following a single dose of ultraviolet light . Cell Comp Physiol 1961;58:81-94.Crossref 16. Miescher G: Das Problem des Lichtschutzes und der Lichtgewöhnung . Strahlentherapie 1930;35:403-443. 17. Kaidbey KH, Kligman AM: Sunburn protection by longwave ultraviolet radiation-induced pigmentation . Arch Dermatol 1978; 114:46-48.Crossref 18. Blum HF: The physiological effects of sunlight on man . Physiol Rev 1945;25:483-530. 19. Corth R: What is natural light ? Lighting Design and Application 1983;13:34-42. 20. Federer CA, Tanner CB: Spectral distribution of light in the forest . Ecology 1966;47:555-560.Crossref 21. Hughes A: The topography of vision in mammals of contrasting life style: Comparative optics of retinal organization , in Crescitelli F (ed): Handbook of Sensory Physiology . New York, Springer-Verlag Inc, 1977, pp 613-756. 22. Hughes A: A comparison of retinal ganglion cell topography in the plains and tree kangaroo . J Physiol 1974;244:61P-63P. 23. Peckham RH, Harley RD: The effect of sunglasses in protecting retinal sensitivity . Am J Ophthalmol 1951;34:14991507. 24. Baker PT: Racial differences in heat tolerance . Am J Phys Anthropol 1958;16:287-305.Crossref 25. Hammel HT: Terrestrial animals in cold: Recent studies of primitive man , in Handbook of Physiology, Adaptation to the Environment . Washington, DC, American Physiological Society, 1964, pp 413-434. 26. Guthrie RD: Evolution of human threat display organs , in Dobzhansky T, Hecht MK, Steere WC (eds): Evolutionary Biology . New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1970, pp 257-302. 27. Wurtman RJ: The effects of light on the human body . Sci Am 1975;233:68-77.Crossref

Journal

Archives of DermatologyAmerican Medical Association

Published: Sep 1, 1985

References