Melanocyte biology and skin pigmentation


Melanocytes are phenotypically prominent but histologically inconspicuous skin cells. They are responsible for the pigmentation of skin and hair, and thereby contribute to the appearance of skin and provide protection from damage by ultraviolet radiation. Pigmentation mutants in various species are highly informative about basic genetic and developmental pathways, and provide important clues to the processes of photoprotection, cancer predisposition and even human evolution. Skin is the most common site of cancer in humans. Continued understanding of melanocyte contributions to skin biology will hopefully provide new opportunities for the prevention and treatment of skin diseases.

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Figure 1: Vertebrate pigmentation.
Figure 2: The MITF promoter.
Figure 3: Labelled melanoblasts in DCT–lacZ mouse embryos.
Figure 4: DCT–lacZ melanoblasts in mouse hair follicles.


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We thank S. R. Granter, M. E. Bigby, H. A. Haynes, A. B. Kimball, J. Rees, A. J. Sober, R. Stern and H. Tsao for useful comments and discussions. This work was supported by grants from the NIH and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (J.Y.L.). D.E.F. is Distinguished Clinical Investigator of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Jan and Charles Nirenberg Fellow in Pediatric Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

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David Fisher discloses equity and consulting relationships with Magen Biosciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Lin, J., Fisher, D. Melanocyte biology and skin pigmentation. Nature 445, 843–850 (2007).

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