Human colors-the rainbow garden of pathology: What gives normal and pathologic tissues their color?

Sergio Pina-Oviedo, Carlos Ortiz-Hidalgo, Alberto G. Ayala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

Context.-Colors are important to all living organisms because they are crucial for camouflage and protection, metabolism, sexual behavior, and communication. Human organs obviously have color, but the underlying biologic processes that dictate the specific colors of organs and tissues are not completely understood. A literature search on the determinants of color in human organs yielded scant information. Objectives.-To address 2 specific questions: (1) why do human organs have color, and (2) what gives normal and pathologic tissues their distinctive colors? Data Sources.-Endogenous colors are the result of complex biochemical reactions that produce biologic pigments: red-brown cytochromes and porphyrins (blood, liver, spleen, kidneys, striated muscle), brown-black melanins (skin, appendages, brain nuclei), dark-brown lipochromes (aging organs), and colors that result from tissue structure (tendons, aponeurosis, muscles). Yelloworange carotenes that deposit in lipid-rich tissues are only produced by plants and are acquired from the diet. However, there is lack of information about the cause of color in other organs, such as the gray and white matter, neuroendocrine organs, and white tissues (epithelia, soft tissues). Neoplastic tissues usually retain the color of their nonneoplastic counterpart. Conclusions.-Most available information on the function of pigments comes from studies in plants, microorganisms, cephalopods, and vertebrates, not humans. Biologic pigments have antioxidant and cytoprotective properties and should be considered as potential future therapies for disease and cancer. We discuss the bioproducts that may be responsible for organ coloration and invite pathologists and pathology residents to look at a ''routine grossing day'' with a different perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)445-462
Number of pages18
JournalArchives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Volume141
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Medical Laboratory Technology

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