Beta-catenin plays an important role in embryogenesis and carcinogenesis by controlling either cadherin-mediated cell adhesion or transcriptional activation of target gene expression. In many types of cancers nuclear translocation of beta-catenin has been observed. Our data indicate that during melanoma progression an increased dependency on the transcriptional function of beta-catenin takes place. Blockade of beta-catenin in metastatic melanoma cell lines efficiently induces apoptosis, inhibits proliferation, migration and invasion in monolayer and 3-dimensional skin reconstructs and decreases chemoresistance. In addition, subcutaneous melanoma growth in SCID mice was almost completely inhibited by an inducible beta-catenin knockdown. In contrast, the survival of benign melanocytes and primary melanoma cell lines was less affected by beta-catenin depletion. However, enhanced expression of beta-catenin in primary melanoma cell lines increased invasive capacity in vitro and tumor growth in the SCID mouse model. These data suggest that beta-catenin is an essential survival factor for metastatic melanoma cells, whereas it is dispensable for the survival of benign melanocytes and primary, non-invasive melanoma cells. Furthermore, beta-catenin increases tumorigenicity of primary melanoma cell lines. The differential requirements for beta-catenin signaling in aggressive melanoma versus benign melanocytic cells make beta-catenin a possible new target in melanoma therapy.