Skin melanocytes: biology and development

Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2013 Feb;30(1):30-41. doi: 10.5114/pdia.2013.33376. Epub 2013 Feb 20.


In the human skin, melanocytes are present in the epidermis and hair follicles. The basic features of these cells are the ability to melanin production and the origin from neural crest cells. This last element is important because there are other cells able to produce melanin but of different embryonic origin (pigmented epithelium of retina, some neurons, adipocytes). The life cycle of melanocyte consists of several steps including differentiation of melanocyte lineage/s from neural crest, migration and proliferation of melanoblasts, differentiation of melanoblasts into melanocytes, proliferation and maturation of melanocytes at the target places (activity of melanogenic enzymes, melanosome formation and transport to keratinocytes) and eventual cell death (hair melanocytes). Melanocytes of the epidermis and hair are cells sharing some common features but in general they form biologically different populations living in unique niches of the skin.

Keywords: melanocytes; neural crest cells; stem cells.

Publication types

  • Review