Melanocyte stem cells differ greatly from melanoma stem cells; the former provide pigmented cells during normal tissue homeostasis and repair, and the latter play an active role in a lethal form of cancer. These 2 cell types share several features and can be studied by similar methods. Aspects held in common by both melanocyte stem cells and melanoma stem cells include their expression of shared biochemical markers, a system of similar molecular signals necessary for their maintenance, and a requirement for an ideal niche microenvironment for providing these factors. This review provides a perspective of both these cell types and discusses potential models of stem cell growth and propagation. Recent findings provide a strong foundation for the development of new therapeutics directed at isolating and manipulating melanocyte stem cells for tissue engineering or at targeting and eradicating melanoma specifically, while sparing nontumor cells.
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