The quinone pigments of sea urchins, specifically echinochrome and spinochromes, are known for their effective antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, and antitumor activities. We developed in vitro
technology for inducing pigment differentiation in cell culture. The intensification of the pigment differentiation was accompanied by a simultaneous decrease in cell proliferation. The number of pigment cells was two-fold higher in the cells cultivated in the coelomic fluids of injured sea urchins than in those intact. The possible roles of the specific components of the coelomic fluids in the pigment differentiation process and the quantitative measurement of the production of naphthoquinone pigments during cultivation were examined by MALDI and electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. Echinochrome A and spinochrome E were produced by the cultivated cells of the sand dollar Scaphechinus mirabilis
in all tested media, while only spinochromes were found in the cultivated cells of another sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus intermedius
. The expression of genes associated with the induction of pigment differentiation was increased in cells cultivated in the presence of shikimic acid, a precursor of naphthoquinone pigments. Our results should contribute to the development of new techniques in marine biotechnology, including the generation of cell cultures producing complex bioactive compounds with therapeutic potential.