Metal ion influence on eumelanin fluorescence and structure

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Melanin has long been thought to have an unworkably weak and complex fluorescence, but here we study its intrinsic fluorescence in order to demonstrate how metal ions can be used to control the rate of formation, constituents and structure of eumelanin formed from the well-known laboratory auto-oxidation of 3, 4-dihydroxy-L-phenylalanine (LDOPA). The effect on eumelanin absorption and fluorescence of a range of solvated metal ions is reported including Cu, Zn, Ni, Na and K. Monovalent cations and Zn have little effect, but the effect of transition metal cations can be considerable. For example, at pH 10, copper ions are shown to accelerate the onset of eumelanin formation, but not the rate of formation once it commences, and simplify the usual complex structure and intrinsic fluorescence of eumelanin in a way that is consistent with an increased abundance of 5,5-dihydroxyindole-2-carboxylic acid (DHICA). The presence of a dominant 6 ns fluorescence decay time at 480 nm, when excited at 450 nm describes a distinct photophysically species, which we tentatively assign to small oligomers. Copper is well-known to normally quench fluorescence, but increasing amounts of copper surprisingly leads to an increase in the fluorescence decay time of eumelanin, while reducing the fluorescence intensity, suggesting copper modification of the excited state. Such results have bearing on diverse areas. The most accepted morphology for melanin is that of a graphite-like sheet structure, and one which readily binds metal ions, an interaction that is thought to have an important, though as yet unclear bearing on several areas of medicine including neurology. There is also increasing interest in bio-mimicry by preparing and labelling sheet structures with metal ions for new electronic and photonic materials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)024005
JournalMethods and Applications in Fluorescence
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2014


  • polymerization
  • melanin, eumelanin
  • 3, 4-dihydroxy-L-phenylalanine
  • L-DOPA
  • copper ions
  • fluorescence


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