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The microenvironment is thought to play a key role in the control of neural crest cell diversification. To investigate its role in melanocyte differentiation we mapped the temporal and spatial distribution of pigmented melanocytes in embryonic chick skin and determined, by experimental means, the route taken by migrating melanocytes in the skin. We show that the New Hampshire Red/Black Australorp crossbreed exhibits melanization from 5 days of incubation (2 1/2 days earlier than is reported in other breeds). Contrary to previous reports our findings show that melanization is at first predominantly dermal. Both dermal and epidermal melanocyte numbers increase until Day 8, whereafter there is a dramatic decline in dermal melanocytes and by Day 10, melanocytes are almost exclusively located in the epidermis. Using homeotypic and heterotypic combinations of white and red/black dermis and epidermis we have demonstrated that premelanocytes arrive in the dermis of the trunk by Day 3 and begin to move into the epidermis from Day 4 onward. Results from these grafts and from tritium labeling studies strongly suggest that there is little or no reverse migration of premelanocytes from epidermis to dermis. Our findings indicate that overt melanocyte differentiation is not dependent on location in an epidermal environment, and that melanogenesis does not signify the end-stage in the migration process. Further, they suggest that the early dermal mesenchyme plays a key role in controlling melanogenesis.

Original publication

DOI

10.1016/0012-1606(91)90224-q

Type

Journal article

Journal

Developmental biology

Publication Date

05/1991

Volume

145

Pages

182 - 194

Addresses

Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Cape Town Medical School, South Africa.

Keywords

Epidermis, Cells, Cultured, Melanocytes, Chick Embryo, Skin, Animals, Skin Transplantation, Cell Differentiation, Cell Movement, Models, Biological, Skin Physiological Phenomena