Melanosomes of the melanophores produce non-fluorescent pigments that play a major role in color adaptation in animals and humans. Melanosomes are controlled by melanophores which are present in the cytoskeletal filaments that responsible to create the chromatic patterns. Certain animals exhibit camouflage. Camouflage occurs in certain animals due to the aggregation of melanophores or dispersal of melanosomes whenever required. The embryological, morphological, and physiological evidence of melanophores in fishes, amphibians, and reptiles has proved that the melanophores are modified into smooth muscle cells. When the melanophores contracts, the melanin granules get aggregated and leads to smooth muscle contraction. The melanosomes disperse when smooth muscles relax. Contraction and relaxation of smooth muscles occur due to an increase in cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) levels. They also require extracellular calcium ions for this purpose.
Chromatophores are pigment cells found in different animals such as amphibians, fishes, reptiles, crustaceans, and cephalopods. The eye and skin color are produced by the structure called chromatophores in ectothermic animals. Cephalopods are animals such as octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish which possess chromatophores. The Chromatophores have small sac-like structures called the pigment sacs that expand and gives the skin a distinct color. Due to their ability to contract and expand, these organisms can change colors within milliseconds.
Types of pigment-producing cells
Based on the color the pigment cells produce, the chromatophores can be classified as follows.
Melanophores correspond to black or brown color
Erythrophores correspond to red color
Xanthophores correspond to yellow color
Cyanophores corresponds to blue color
Leucophores correspond to white color
Iridophores corresponds to reflective colors These pigment cells are found in cold-blooded animals. Since human beings are warm-blooded, they produce only melanophore pigment. Melanophores are responsible for producing and storing melanin. Melanophores are classified into two types such as dermal melanophores and epidermal melanophores. Both the melanophores are important for change in the color of the skin.
Dermal melanophores: The dermal layer of the skin is the place where the dermal melanophores are present.These cells are most commonly found in cold-blooded animals. They are responsible for rapid changes in the color of the skin. When flat these cells are dispersed throughout the cell, the skin appears dark. The melanophore cells in humans produce black or dark-brown color pigment known as melanin.
Epidermal melanophores: The melanophores that are found in the epidermal layer are known as epidermal melanophores. Epidermal melanophores do not undergo rapid changes in skin color. Epidermal melanophores are responsible for the pigmentation of the skin and hair. Epidermal melanophores are found in mammals. Epidermal melanophores are also known as melanocytes. Melanocytes are responsible for the movements of melanosomes into the neighboring keratinocytes. The process in which the melanocytes produce melanin is known as melanogenesis. Melanin protects the cells from damage due to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. The skin’s black or brown color helps in absorption of UV-B radiation, leading to melanin production. Melanocytes are found in the uveal layer of the eye, inner ear, meninges, heart, and bones.
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