In the medaka fish Oryzias latipes many mutants for body colors have been isolated. Among them, a colorless melanophore mutant b, carrying b alleles homozygously, has pigmented black eyes but orange-colored skin with amelanotic melanophores, suggesting the presence of a tissue-specific mechanism of melanin formation. To cast light on the molecular basis of the mechanism, we have cloned cDNAs for tyrosinase (Tyr), a key enzyme in melanin biosynthesis, from the wild-type (wt) fish. DNA sequence analysis revealed that all clones encode a protein of 540 amino acids, having five potential glycosylation sites and two copper-binding sites that are characteristic features of Tyr. Genomic DNA blot analysis disclosed that the Tyr gene is present as a single copy in the fish genome. Using a cDNA clone as a probe, RNA blot analysis was carried out. In the wt, the 2.2-kb Tyr mRNA was expressed in eyes and skin but not in liver, corresponding to tissue-specific melanin formation. In the b mutant, contrary to expectation, the mRNA was detected not only in eyes but also in amelanotic skin. Therefore, pigmentation of the skin controlled by b is not directly related to expression of the Tyr gene.
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