In vivo and in vitro evidence of dermal fibroblasts influence on human epidermal pigmentation


*Address correspondence to Muriel Cario-André, e-mail:


Using chimeric human epidermal reconstructs, we previously demonstrated that epidermal pigmentation is dependent upon the phototype of melanocytes. We report here several lines of experimental evidence for dermal modulation of human epidermal pigmentation. First, phototype II–III epidermal reconstructs grafted on the back of immunotolerant Swiss nu/nu mice developed a patchy pigmentation dependent on the presence of colonizing human or mouse fibroblasts. Similarly, human white Caucasoid split-thickness skin xenografted on the same mouse strain became black within 3 months and histochemistry revealed a phototype VI pattern of melanin distribution. In vitro, human fibroblasts colonizing human dead de-epidermized dermis (DDD) induced a decrease in epidermal pigmentation whereas mouse (Swiss nu/nu) fibroblasts increased epidermal pigmentation. Conditioned medium from mice (Swiss nu/nu) fibroblasts also increased pigmentation whereas conditioned medium from human fibroblasts had no significant effect. Lastly, epidermal reconstructs made with normal or vitiligo keratinocytes and/or normal or vitiligo melanocytes from the same donor grown on DDD originating from several donors of the same clinical phototype did not pigment similarly and no specific dermal influence was noted for vitiligo. Thus, fibroblast secretion and acellular dermal connective tissue itself significantly influence melanocyte proliferation and melanin distribution/degradation. Our study suggests that murine fibroblasts are more potent than human fibroblasts in secreting soluble factors which can act directly on pigmentation, such as SCF, or activate keratinocytes to produce basement membrane proteins or melanogenic factors.