Changes in the proliferation and differentiation of epidermal melanocytes derived from newborn mice wild-type at the pink-eyed dilution (p) locus (P/P) and from congenic mice mutant at that locus (p/p) were investigated in serum-free primary culture, with or without the addition of L-Tyr. Incubation with added L-Tyr inhibited the proliferation of P/P melanocytes in a concentration-dependent manner and inhibition was gradually augmented as the donor mice aged. In contrast, L-Tyr stimulated the proliferation of p/p melanoblasts–melanocytes derived from 0.5-day-old mice, but inhibited their proliferation when derived from 3.5- or 7.5-day-old mice. L-Tyr stimulated the differentiation of P/P melanocytes. However, almost all cells were undifferentiated melanoblasts in control cultures derived from 0.5-, 3.5- and 7.5-day-old p/p mice, but L-Tyr induced their differentiation as the age of the donor mice advanced. The content of the eumelanin marker, pyrrole-2,3,5-tricarboxylic acid as well as the pheomelanin marker, 4-amino-3-hydroxyphenylalanine in p/p melanocytes was greatly reduced compared with P/P melanocytes. However, the contents of eumelanin and its precursor, 5,6-dihydroxyindole-2-carboxylic acid, as well as the contents of pheomelanin and its precursor, 5-S-cysteinyldopa in culture media from p/p melanocytes were similar to those of P/P melanocytes at all ages tested. L-Tyr increased the content of eumelanin and pheomelanin two- to threefold in cultured cells and media derived from 0.5-, 3.5- and 7.5-day-old mice. These results suggest that the proliferation of p/p melanoblasts–melanocytes is stimulated by L-Tyr, and that the differentiation of melanocytes is induced by L-Tyr as the age of the donor mice advanced, although eumelanin and pheomelanin fail to accumulate in p/p melanocytes and are released from them at all ages of skin development.