Melanocytes: the new Black.
Melanocytes, pigment-producing cells residing primarily in the hair follicle, epidermis and eye, are responsible for skin hair and eye pigmentation. Pigmentation is achieved by the highly regulated manufacture of the pigment melanin in specialised organelles, melanosomes that are transported along dendritic processes before being transferred to growing hair, or keratinocytes where melanin protects from UV-induced DNA damage. Because loss of melanocytes gives a clear pigmentation phenotype yet is non-lethal, over 130 genes implicated in the development or function of this cell type have been identified to date, and in humans the loss of melanocytes or their ability to produce pigment, or transport or transfer melanosomes is associated with several diseases such as vitiligo, albinism and Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome. Importantly, the effective combination of genetics, cell and molecular biology possible with this cell type is attracting an increasing number of researchers focussed on understanding how cells coordinate survival, proliferation, differentiation and stem cell maintenance.