Melanocore uptake by keratinocytes occurs through phagocytosis and involves Protease-activated receptor-2 internalization

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In the skin epidermis, melanin is produced and stored within melanosomes in melanocytes, and then transferred to keratinocytes. Different models have been proposed to explain the melanin transfer mechanism, which differ essentially in how melanin is transferred - either in a membrane-bound melanosome or as a melanosome core, i.e., melanocore. Here, we investigated the endocytic route followed by melanocores and melanosomes during internalization by keratinocytes, by comparing the uptake of melanocores isolated from the supernatant of melanocyte cultures, with melanosomes isolated from melanocytes. We show that inhibition of actin dynamics impairs the uptake of both melanocores and melanosomes. Moreover, depletion of critical proteins involved in actin-dependent uptake mechanisms, namely Rac1, CtBP1/BARS, Cdc42 or RhoA, together with inhibition of Rac1-dependent signaling pathways or macropinocytosis suggest that melanocores are internalized by phagocytosis, whereas melanosomes are internalized by macropinocytosis. Interestingly, we found that Rac1, Cdc42 and RhoA are differently activated by melanocore or melanosome stimulation, supporting the existence of two distinct internalization routes of melanin internalization. Furthermore, we show that melanocore uptake induces Protease-activated receptor-2 (PAR-2) internalization by keratinocytes to a higher extent than melanosomes. Since skin pigmentation was shown to be regulated by PAR-2 activation, our results further support the melanocore-based mechanism of melanin transfer and further refine this model, which can now be described as coupled melanocore exo/phagocytosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-345
Issue number6
Early online date15 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • macropinocytosis
  • melanocore
  • melanosomes
  • phagocytosis
  • protease-activated receptor-2


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