Cellular and Molecular Biology



Genetics of pigment cells: lessons from the tyrosinase gene family

F. Murisier and F. Beermann

ISREC (Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research), National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) Molecular Oncology, Epalinges, Switzerland

Offprint requests to: Dr. Friedrich Beermann, ISREC (Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research), Chemin des Boveresses 155, CH-1066 Epalinges, Switzerland. e-mail: friedrich.beermann@isrec.ch

Summary. In mammals, the melanin pigment is produced in two cell types of distinct developmental origins. The melanocytes of the skin originate form the neural crest whereas the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) of the eye originates from the optic cup. The genetic programs governing these two cell types are thus quite different but have evolved to allow the expression of pigment cell-specific genes such as the three members of the tyrosinase-related family. Tyrosinase, Tyrp1 and Dct promoters contain a motif termed E-box which is bound by the transcription factor Mitf. These E-boxes are also found in the promoters of the corresponding fish genes, thus highlighting the pivotal role of Mitf in pigment cell-specific gene regulation. Mitf, which displays cell type-specific isoforms, transactivates the promoters of the tyrosinase gene family in both pigment cell lineages. However, specific DNA motifs have been found in these promoters, and they correspond to binding sites for RPE-specific factors such as Otx2 or for melanocyte-specific factors such as Sox10 or Pax3. The regulation of pigment cell-specific expression is also controlled by genetic elements located outside of the promoter, such as the tyrosinase distal regulatory element located at -15 kb which acts as a melanocyte-specific enhancer but also protects from spreading of condensed chromatin. Thus, by using the tyrosinase gene family as a model, it is possible to define the transcription factor networks that govern pigment production in either melanocytes or RPE. Histol Histopathol 21, 567-578 (2006)

Key words: Melanocytes, RPE, Tyrosinase, Promoter, Enhancer

DOI: 10.14670/HH-21.567