Many studies have highlighted the critical role of c-Kit in normal melanocyte development but its role in melanoma development remains unclear. Although c-Kit expression is often lost during melanoma progression, a subset of melanoma has been found to overexpress c-Kit and mutations activating c-Kit have recently been identified in some acral and mucosal melanoma. To address the role of these c-Kit mutants in the transformation of melanocytes, we characterized the physiological responses of melanocytes expressing the most frequent c-Kit mutants found in melanoma (K642E and L576P) and a novel mutant we identified in an acral melanoma. We analysed signaling pathways activated downstream of c-Kit and showed that all three mutants led to a strong activation of the phosphatidyl-inositol-3 kinase (PI3K) pathway but only weak activation of the Ras/Raf/Mek/Erk pathway, which was not sufficient to promote uncontrolled melanocyte proliferation and transformation. However, in hypoxic conditions or coexpressed with a constitutively active form of hypoxia-inducible factor 1alpha (HIF-1alpha), c-Kit mutants activate the Ras/Raf/Mek/Erk pathway, stimulate proliferation and transform melanocytes. Proliferation of melanocytes transformed by these mutants was specifically inhibited by imatinib. These results show for the first time that melanocytes require a specific epigenetic environment to be transformed by c-Kit mutants and highlight a distinct molecular mechanism of melanocyte transformation.