Isolation and Biophysical Studies of Natural Eumelanins: Applications of Imaging Technologies and Ultrafast Spectroscopy

Yan Liu, John D. Simon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

171 Scopus citations


The major pigments found in the skin, hair, and eyes of humans and other animals are melanins. Despite significant research efforts, the current understanding of the molecular structure of melanins, the assembly of the pigment within its organelle, and the structural consequences of the association of melanins with protein and metal cations is limited. Likewise, a detailed understanding of the photochemical and photophysical properties of melanins has remained elusive. Many types of melanins have been studied to date, including natural and synthetic model pigments. Such studies are often contradictory and to some extent the diversity of systems studied may have detracted from the development of a basic understanding of the structure and function of the natural pigment. Advances in the understanding of the structure and function of melanins require careful characterization of the pigments examined so as to assure the data obtained may be relevant to the properties of the pigment in vivo. To address this issue, herein the influence of isolation procedures on the resulting structure of the pigment is examined. Sections describing the applications of new technologies to the study of melanins follow this. Advanced imaging technologies such as scanning probe microscopies are providing new insights into the morphology of the pigment assembly. Recent photochemical studies on photoreduction of cytochrome c by different mass fraction of sonicated natural melanins reveal that the photogeneration of reactive oxygen species (ROS) depends upon aggregation of melanin. Specifically, aggregation mitigates ROS photoproduction by UV-excitation, suggesting the integrity of melanosomes in tissue may play an important role in the balance between the photoprotective and photodamaging behaviors attributed to melanins. Ultrafast laser spectroscopy studies of melanins are providing insights into the time scales and mechanisms by which melanin dissipates absorbed light energy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)606-618
Number of pages13
JournalPigment Cell Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggregation
  • Eumelanin
  • Imaging
  • Mass spectroscopy
  • Melanin
  • Pheomelanin
  • Reactive oxygen species
  • Ultrafast spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science
  • Developmental Biology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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