How are proliferation and differentiation of melanocytes regulated?


  • Tomohisa Hirobe

    1. Radiation Effect Mechanisms Research Group, National Institute of Radiological Sciences, Anagawa, Inage-ku, Chiba, Japan
    2. Graduate School of Science, Chiba University, Yayoi-cho, Inage-ku, Chiba, Japan
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Coat colors are determined by melanin (eumelanin and pheomelanin). Melanin is synthesized in melanocytes and accumulates in special organelles, melanosomes, which upon maturation are transferred to keratinocytes. Melanocytes differentiate from undifferentiated precursors, called melanoblasts, which are derived from neural crest cells. Melanoblast/melanocyte proliferation and differentiation are regulated by the tissue environment, especially by keratinocytes, which synthesize endothelins, steel factor, hepatocyte growth factor, leukemia inhibitory factor and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor. Melanocyte differentiation is also stimulated by alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone; in the mouse, however, this hormone is likely carried through the bloodstream and not produced locally in the skin. Melanoblast migration, proliferation and differentiation are also regulated by many coat color genes otherwise known for their ability to regulate melanosome formation and maturation, pigment type switching and melanosome distribution and transfer. Thus, melanocyte proliferation and differentiation are not only regulated by genes encoding typical growth factors and their receptors but also by genes classically known for their role in pigment formation.