Extensive studies of the biology of the pigment-producing cell (melanocyte) have resulted in a wealth of knowledge regarding the genetics and developmental mechanisms governing skin and hair pigmentation. The ease of identification of altered pigment phenotypes, particularly in mouse coat color mutants, facilitated early use of the pigmentary system in mammalian genetics and development. In addition to the large collection of developmental genetics data, melanocytes are of interest because their malignancy results in melanoma, a highly aggressive and frequently fatal cancer that is increasing in Caucasian populations worldwide. The genetic programs regulating melanocyte development, function, and malignancy are highly complex and only partially understood. Current research in melanocyte development and pigmentation is revealing new genes important in these processes and additional functions for previously known individual components. A detailed understanding of all the components involved in melanocyte development and function, including interactions with neighboring cells and response to environmental stimuli, will be necessary to fully comprehend this complex system. The inherent characteristics of pigmentation biology as well as the resources available to researchers in the pigment cell community make melanocytes an ideal cell type for analysis using systems biology approaches. In this review, the study of melanocyte development and pigmentation is considered as a candidate for systems biology-based analyses. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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