Melanin: The biophysiology of oral melanocytes and physiological oral pigmentation

Liviu Feller*, Aubrey Masilana, Razia A.G. Khammissa, Mario Altini, Yusuf Jadwat, Johan Lemmer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


The presence of melanocytes in the oral epithelium is a well-established fact, but their physiological functions are not well defined. Melanin provides protection from environmental stressors such as ultraviolet radiation and reactive oxygen species; and melanocytes function as stress-sensors having the capacity both to react to and to produce a variety of microenvironmental cytokines and growth factors, modulating immune, inflammatory and antibacterial responses. Melanocytes also act as neuroendocrine cells producing local neurotransmitters including acetylcholine, catecholamines and opioids, and hormones of the melanocortin system such as proopiomelanocortin, adrenocorticotropic hormone and α-melanocyte stimulating hormone, that participate in intracellular and in intercellular signalling pathways, thus contributing to tissue homeostasis.There is a wide range of normal variation in melanin pigmentation of the oral mucosa. In general, darker skinned persons more frequently have oral melanin pigmentation than light-skinned persons. Variations in oral physiological pigmentation are genetically determined unless associated with some underlying disease.In this article, we discuss some aspects of the biophysiology of oral melanocytes, of the functions of melanin, and of physiological oral pigmentation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8
JournalHead and Face Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2014


  • Keratinocyte
  • Melanin
  • Melanocyte stem cell
  • Melanosome
  • Oral melanocytes
  • Pigment transfer
  • Pigmentation


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