Open Access

Vertebrate melanophores as potential model for drug discovery and development: A review

Cellular & Molecular Biology LettersAn International Journal201016:44

DOI: 10.2478/s11658-010-0044-y

Received: 14 July 2010

Accepted: 20 December 2010

Published: 27 December 2010


Drug discovery in skin pharmacotherapy is an enormous, continually expanding field. Researchers are developing novel and sensitive pharmaceutical products and drugs that target specific receptors to elicit concerted and appropriate responses. The pigment-bearing cells called melanophores have a significant contribution to make in this field. Melanophores, which contain the dark brown or black pigment melanin, constitute an important class of chromatophores. They are highly specialized in the bidirectional and coordinated translocation of pigment granules when given an appropriate stimulus. The pigment granules can be stimulated to undergo rapid dispersion throughout the melanophores, making the cell appear dark, or to aggregate at the center, making the cell appear light. The major signals involved in pigment transport within the melanophores are dependent on a special class of cell surface receptors called G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). Many of these receptors of adrenaline, acetylcholine, histamine, serotonin, endothelin and melatonin have been found on melanophores. They are believed to have clinical relevance to skin-related ailments and therefore have become targets for high throughput screening projects. The selective screening of these receptors requires the recognition of particular ligands, agonists and antagonists and the characterization of their effects on pigment motility within the cells. The mechanism of skin pigmentation is incredibly intricate, but it would be a considerable step forward to unravel its underlying physiological mechanism. This would provide an experimental basis for new pharmacotherapies for dermatological anomalies. The discernible stimuli that can trigger a variety of intracellular signals affecting pigment granule movement primarily include neurotransmitters and hormones. This review focuses on the role of the hormone and neurotransmitter signals involved in pigment movement in terms of the pharmacology of the specific receptors.

Key words

G-protein-coupled receptors Melanocytes Skin pigmentation Neurotransmitter Pigment cells Melanocyte-stimulating hormone MSH Drug discovery