The TYR gene provides instructions for making an enzyme called tyrosinase. This enzyme is located in melanocytes, which are specialized cells that produce a pigment called melanin. Melanin is the substance that gives skin, hair, and eyes their color. Melanin is also found in the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (the retina), where it plays a role in normal vision.
Tyrosinase is responsible for the first step in melanin production. It converts a protein building block (amino acid) called tyrosine to another compound called dopaquinone. A series of additional chemical reactions convert dopaquinone to melanin in the skin, hair follicles, the colored part of the eye (the iris), and the retina.
More than 100 mutations in the TYR gene have been identified in people with oculocutaneous albinism type 1. These mutations disrupt the normal production of melanin, which reduces coloring of the hair, skin, and eyes and causes problems with vision. Most TYR mutations eliminate the activity of tyrosinase, preventing melanocytes from producing any melanin throughout life. These mutations cause a form of oculocutaneous albinism called type 1A (OCA1A). People with this form of albinism have white hair, light-colored eyes, and very pale skin that does not tan. Other mutations in the TYR gene reduce but do not eliminate tyrosinase activity. These mutations, which allow some melanin to be produced, cause oculocutaneous albinism type 1B (OCA1B). People with type 1B are also born with white hair, light-colored eyes, and pale skin, but hair and eye color often darken over time and skin may tan.
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