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Cytology and localization of chromatophores in the skin of the Tuatara (Sphenodon punctaus)

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Alibardi, L. 2012. Cytology and localization of chromatophores in the skin of the Tuatara (Sphenodon punctaus). —Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 93: 330–337.

The study deals with skin pigmentation in the reptile Sphenodon punctatus where neither strong colors nor rapid color changes are present. Dark areas of the skin derive from an intense pigmentation of beta‐keratinocytes of the epidermis. Only epidermal melanocytes are involved in the process of melanosome transfer into keratinocytes. The basement membrane is a structural boundary separating melanocytes from melanophores that are sparse or concentrated in some dermal areas where they contribute to the dark coloration of the skin. In these regions, dermal melanophores give rise to the dark dots or to the irregular spots or to the dark stripes present in the skin. Ultrastructurally only eu‐melanosomes are present, although only molecular studies can detect whether also pheomelanins are synthesized in these organelles. Chromatophores are not organized in functional dermal melanophore units. Xantophores are distributed under the epidermis and store lipid‐containing droplets or lamellated pterinosomes. Their specific yellow‐orange hues become evident on the skin surface. Iridophores are generally localized among the melanosomes and form reflecting platelets that are derived form the endoplasmic reticulum and probably are also elaborated in the Golgi apparatus. The role in color production of the latter cells in the skin remains to be identified.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Dipartimento di Biologia, University of Bologna, via Selmi 3, 40126, Bologna, Italy

Publication date: July 1, 2012

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