Rapid advances have been made in our knowledge of the commonest genetic and epigenetic alterations found in human sporadic melanomas. Valuable recent contributions came from analyses of gene copy number by comparative genome hybridization, and from large-scale gene expression profiling. All of the commonest affected genes encode regulatory components. Loci with established importance in melanoma, like CDKN2A, BRAF and PTEN, have been joined by some less familiar genes including transcription factor sequences TBX2 and STK11 (LKB). This knowledge is reviewed in relation to the cellular signaling pathways affected by these molecules, their biological outcomes, and the implications as to what changes are required overall to generate a melanoma. The data support a model in which genesis of melanoma requires changes that (1) initiate clonal expansion, (2) overcome cell senescence, and (3) reduce apoptosis.