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Genetics Home Reference: your guide to understanding genetic conditions     A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine®


Reviewed April 2006

What is the official name of the MITF gene?

The official name of this gene is “microphthalmia-associated transcription factor.”

MITF is the gene's official symbol. The MITF gene is also known by other names, listed below.

What is the normal function of the MITF gene?

The MITF gene provides instructions for making a protein called microphthalmia-associated transcription factor. This protein plays a role in the development, survival, and function of certain types of cells. To carry out this role, the protein attaches to specific areas of DNA and helps control the activity of particular genes. On the basis of this action, the protein is called a transcription factor.

Microphthalmia-associated transcription factor helps control the development and function of pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. Within these cells, this protein also controls production of the pigment melanin, which contributes to hair, eye, and skin color. Melanocytes are also found in the inner ear and play an important role in hearing. Additionally, microphthalmia-associated transcription factor regulates the development of specialized cells in the eye called retinal pigment epithelial cells. These cells nourish the retina, the part of the eye that detects light and color. Some research indicates that microphthalmia-associated transcription factor also regulates the development of cells that break down and remove bone (osteoclasts) and cells that play a role in allergic reactions (mast cells).

Microphthalmia-associated transcription factor has a particular structure with three critically important regions. One region, known as the basic motif, binds to specific areas of DNA. Other regions, called the helix-loop-helix motif and the leucine-zipper motif, are critical for protein interactions. These motifs allow molecules of microphthalmia-associated transcription factor to interact with each other or with other proteins that have a similar structure. These interactions produce a two-protein unit (dimer) that functions as a transcription factor.

Does the MITF gene share characteristics with other genes?

The MITF gene belongs to a family of genes called bHLH (basic helix-loop-helix).

A gene family is a group of genes that share important characteristics. Classifying individual genes into families helps researchers describe how genes are related to each other. For more information, see What are gene families? ( in the Handbook.

How are changes in the MITF gene related to health conditions?

Waardenburg syndrome - caused by mutations in the MITF gene

Mutations in the MITF gene have been identified in some people with Waardenburg syndrome, type II. Some MITF gene mutations change the chemical building blocks (amino acids) used to make microphthalmia-associated transcription factor, which alters the helix-loop-helix or leucine-zipper motif. Other mutations result in an abnormally small version of microphthalmia-associated transcription factor. Researchers believe that both types of mutations disrupt the formation of dimers. Although some functional dimers are produced to serve as transcription factors, the amount is insufficient for full development of melanocytes. As a result, there is a shortage of melanocytes in certain areas of the skin, hair, eyes, and inner ear. This shortage leads to hearing loss and the patchy loss of pigmentation that are characteristic features of Waardenburg syndrome.

other disorders - caused by mutations in the MITF gene

MITF gene mutations also cause Tietz syndrome, which is characterized by profound hearing loss from birth, fair skin, and light-colored hair. The mutations either delete or change a single amino acid in the basic motif region of the MITF protein. As a result, the altered protein cannot bind to DNA, which affects the development of melanocytes and melanin production. The absence or reduced number of melanocytes in the inner ear leads to hearing loss. Decreased melanin production (hypopigmentation) accounts for the light skin and hair color that are characteristic of Tietz syndrome.

Where is the MITF gene located?

Cytogenetic Location: 3p14.2-p14.1

Molecular Location on chromosome 3: base pairs 69,739,435 to 69,968,337

The MITF gene is located on the short (p) arm of chromosome 3 between positions 14.2 and 14.1.

The MITF gene is located on the short (p) arm of chromosome 3 between positions 14.2 and 14.1.

More precisely, the MITF gene is located from base pair 69,739,435 to base pair 69,968,337 on chromosome 3.

See How do geneticists indicate the location of a gene? ( in the Handbook.

Where can I find additional information about MITF?

You and your healthcare professional may find the following resources about MITF helpful.

You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for genetics professionals and researchers.

What other names do people use for the MITF gene or gene products?

  • homolog of mouse microphthalmia
  • WS2A

See How are genetic conditions and genes named? ( in the Handbook.

What glossary definitions help with understanding MITF?

acids ; amino acid ; dimer ; DNA ; epithelial ; gene ; hypopigmentation ; leucine ; mast cells ; melanin ; melanocytes ; motif ; pigment ; pigmentation ; protein ; retina ; syndrome ; transcription ; transcription factor

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.


  • Amiel J, Watkin PM, Tassabehji M, Read AP, Winter RM. Mutation of the MITF gene in albinism-deafness syndrome (Tietz syndrome). Clin Dysmorphol. 1998 Jan;7(1):17-20. (
  • Bondurand N, Pingault V, Goerich DE, Lemort N, Sock E, Le Caignec C, Wegner M, Goossens M. Interaction among SOX10, PAX3 and MITF, three genes altered in Waardenburg syndrome. Hum Mol Genet. 2000 Aug 12;9(13):1907-17. (
  • Murakami H, Arnheiter H. Sumoylation modulates transcriptional activity of MITF in a promoter-specific manner. Pigment Cell Res. 2005 Aug;18(4):265-77. (
  • NCBI Gene (
  • Potterf SB, Furumura M, Dunn KJ, Arnheiter H, Pavan WJ. Transcription factor hierarchy in Waardenburg syndrome: regulation of MITF expression by SOX10 and PAX3. Hum Genet. 2000 Jul;107(1):1-6. (
  • Read AP. Waardenburg syndrome. Adv Otorhinolaryngol. 2000;56:32-8. Review. (
  • Smith SD, Kelley PM, Kenyon JB, Hoover D. Tietz syndrome (hypopigmentation/deafness) caused by mutation of MITF. J Med Genet. 2000 Jun;37(6):446-8. (
  • Tachibana M. Cochlear melanocytes and MITF signaling. J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2001 Nov;6(1):95-8. Review. (
  • Tachibana M. MITF: a stream flowing for pigment cells. Pigment Cell Res. 2000 Aug;13(4):230-40. Review. (
  • Widlund HR, Fisher DE. Microphthalamia-associated transcription factor: a critical regulator of pigment cell development and survival. Oncogene. 2003 May 19;22(20):3035-41. Review. (


The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? ( in the Handbook.

Reviewed: April 2006
Published: November 23, 2015