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November 2017

The Black Panther, From Politics to Popular Culture

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of California, Berkeley
  • 2University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore
  • 3University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore
JAMA Dermatol. 2017;153(11):1113. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.3785

Although the black panther is not a true animal species, the term is used to describe black pigmentation in a number of large feline species, including jaguars and leopards. Studies show that their dark pigmentation patterns are linked to polymorphisms in 2 genes, the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) and the agouti-signaling protein (ASIP). The melanocortin-1 receptor is activated by binding of α-melanocyte–stimulating hormone, leading to the production of eumelanin, which is responsible for dark pigmentation. Conversely, the melanocortin-1 receptor is inhibited by the antagonist ASIP, leading to the production of pheomelanin, which is responsible for light pigmentation. Therefore, activating mutations in MC1R and inactivating mutations in ASIP are thought to underlie the melanization of the captivating black panther.1 In 1966, these striking animals became a symbol for one of the most influential civil rights groups, as well as the inspiration for Marvel Comics’ first black superhero.