Synthetic melanin is a model for soluble natural eumelanin in UVA-photosensitised superoxide production

Rachel M Haywood, Martin Lee, Claire Linge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies to UV-irradiate natural eumelanins in vitro have used insoluble pigment obtained by acid hydrolysis, which lacks melanoprotein. Eumelanin synthesised in the presence of a protein is not insoluble, and the insoluble form of melanin from acid hydrolysis may not have the same physicochemical properties as the natural pigment synthesised in vivo in the melanosome. Here we investigated radical production by three natural eumelanins exposed to solar levels of UVA; sepia melanin from Sepia officinalis, and eumelanins isolated from Oriental human and domestic cat hair. UVA irradiation of sepia melanin in solution at pH 4.5 in the presence of the spin trap 5,5-dimethyl-1-pyrroline N-oxide (DMPO) gave hydroperoxyl and hydroxyl radical-adducts, maximal at 0.6-2.5 mg/ml melanin concentrations. Hydroperoxyl radical production was relatively low in acetate buffer, but detected in aqueous suspensions of sepia melanin. Hair eumelanins were photoreactive with hydroperoxyl radical-adduct production at low concentrations (0.1-0.4 mg/ml melanin). Synthetic pigment after synthesis undergoes photo-oxidation (producing superoxide) at low concentrations (0.3 mg/ml) and its oxidation increases the photoreactivity at higher melanin concentrations. These findings may be physiologically relevant to the properties and function of eumelanin in vivo when it is at low concentration (found in a small proportion of Caucasian melanocytes), and suggest that synthetic melanin has the potential for the basis of a model for natural eumelanin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-35
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2006


  • Hair
  • Humans
  • Melanins
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Spectrophotometry, Ultraviolet
  • Superoxides
  • Ultraviolet Rays


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