Pigments in aging: an overview

Eduardo A Porta
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 2002, 959: 57-65
Although during the normal aging process there are numerous pigmentary changes, the best recognized are those of melanin and lipofuscin. Melanin may increase (e.g., age spots, senile lentigo, or melanosis coli) or decrease (e.g., graying of hair or ocular melanin) with age, while lipofuscin (also called age pigment) always increases with age. In fact, the time-dependent accumulation of lipofuscin in lysosomes of postmitotic cells and some stable cells is the most consistent and phylogenetically constant morphologic change of aging. This pigment displays a typical autofluorescence (Ex: approximately 440; Em: approximately 600 nm), sudanophilia, argyrophilia, PAS positiveness, and acid fastness. Advances on its biogenesis, composition, evolution, and lysosomal degradation have been hampered by the persistent confusion between lipofuscin and the large family of ceroid pigments found in a variety of pathological conditions, as evidenced by the frequent use of the hybrid term lipofuscin/ceroid by investigators mainly working with in vitro systems of disputable relevance to in vivo lipofuscinogenesis. While lipofuscin and ceroid pigments may share some of their physicochemical properties at one moment or another in their evolutions, these pigments have different tissue distribution, rates of accumulation, origin of their precursors, and lectin binding affinities. Although it is widely believed that lipofuscin is a marker of oxidative stress, and that it can be, therefore, modified by antioxidants and prooxidants, these assumptions are mainly based on in vitro experiments and are not generally supported by in vivo studies. Another common misconception is the belief that lipofuscin can be extracted from tissues by lipid solvents and measured spectrofluorometrically. These and other disturbing problems are reviewed and discussed in this presentation.

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