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J Cell Biol. 1968 July 1; 38(1): 67–79.
PMCID: PMC2107474

THE DERMAL CHROMATOPHORE UNIT

Abstract

Rapid color changes of amphibians are mediated by three types of dermal chromatophores, xanthophores, iridophores, and melanophores, which comprise a morphologically and physiologically distinct structure, the dermal chromatophore unit. Xanthophores, the outermost element, are located immediately below the basal lamella. Iridophores, containing light-reflecting organelles, are found just beneath the xanthophores. Under each iridophore is found a melanophore from which processes extend upward around the iridophore. Finger-like structures project from these processes and occupy fixed spaces between the xanthophores and iridophores. When a frog darkens, melanosomes move upward from the body of the melanophore to fill the fingers which then obscure the overlying iridophore. Rapid blanching is accomplished by the evacuation of melanosomes from these fingers. Pale coloration ranging from tan to green is provided by the overlying xanthophores and iridophores. Details of chromatophore structure are presented, and the nature of the intimate contact between the chromatophore types is discussed.

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