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Impairment of mixed melanin-based pigmentation in parrots

Parrots and allies (Order Psittaciformes) have evolved an exclusive capacity to synthesize polyene pigments called psittacofulvins at feather follicles, which allows them to produce a striking diversity of pigmentation phenotypes. Melanins are polymers constituting the most abundant pigments in animals, and the sulphurated form (pheomelanin) produces colors that are similar to those produced by psittacofulvins. However, the differential contribution of these pigments to psittaciform phenotypic diversity has not been investigated. Given the color redundancy, and physiological limitations associated to pheomelanin synthesis, this study assumed that the latter would be avoided by psittaciform birds. This hypothesis was tested by using Raman spectroscopy to identify pigments in feathers exhibiting colors suspicious of being produced by pheomelanin (i.e., dull red, yellow and grey- and green-brownish) in 26 species from the three main lineages of Psittaciformes. The non-sulphurated melanin form (eumelanin) were detected in black, grey and brown plumage patches, and psittacofulvins in red, yellow and green patches, but no evidence of pheomelanin was found. As natural melanins are assumed to be composed of eumelanin and pheomelanin in varying ratios, these results represent the first report of impairment of mixed melanin-based pigmentation in animals. Given that psittaciforms also avoid the uptake of circulating carotenoid pigments, these birds seem to have evolved a capacity to avoid functional redundancy between pigments, likely by regulating follicular gene expression. The study provides the first vibrational characterization of different psittacofulvin-based colors and thus helps to determine the relative polyene chain length in these pigments, which is related to their antireductant protection activity. informacion[at]ebd.csic.es: Neves et al (2020) Impairment of mixed melanin-based pigmentation in parrots. J Experim Biol. DOI 10.1242/jeb.225912


https://jeb.biologists.org/content/early/2020/05/08/jeb.225912
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Exposure to a competitive social environment activates an epigenetic mechanism that limits pheomelanin synthesis in zebra finches

Exposure to a competitive social environment activates an epigenetic mechanism that limits pheomelanin synthesis in zebra finches

Competitive environments promote high testosterone levels, oxidative stress and, consequently, impair cellular homeostasis. The regulation of genes involved in the synthesis of the pigment pheomelanin in melanocytes seems to help to maintain homeostasis against environmental oxidative stress. Here, social interactions in some zebra finch Taeniopygia guttata males were experimentally increased by keeping them in groups of six birds during feather growth, while others were kept alone, to test if melanocytes show epigenetic lability under a competitive social environment. As these changes may depend on the oxidative status, buthionine sulfoximine (BSO) was administrated to decrease the antioxidant capacity of some birds. The competitive environment downregulated a gene involved in pheomelanin synthesis (Slc7a11) by changing the level of DNA methylation in feather melanocytes. In other genes involved in pheomelanin synthesis (Slc45a2, MC1R and AGRP), DNA methylation was also affected, but no changes in expression were detected. The exposure to the competitive environment did not affect systemic oxidative stress and damage, indicating that a protective epigenetic mechanism that changes the expression of Slc7a11 may have been activated. However, no changes on the pigmentation phenotype of birds were found, likely due to the short duration or low intensity of the competitive environment. BSO treatment did not affect the epigenetic mechanism, suggesting that the antioxidant capacity of birds was high enough to deal with the competitive environment. An epigenetic mechanism limiting pheomelanin synthesis gets therefore activated under exposure to a competitive environment in male zebra finches, which may help avoiding damage caused by competitive interactions. informacion[at]ebd.csic.es: Rodríguez-Martínez & Galván (2019) Exposure to a competitive social environment activates an epigenetic mechanism that limits pheomelanin synthesis in zebra finches. Molecular Ecol https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.15171


https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mec.15171