Stem cell factor (SCF) is hypothesized to play a critical role in the migration of melanocytes during embryogenesis because mutations in either the SCF gene, or its ligand, c-kit, result in defects in coat pigmentation in mice and in skin pigmentation in humans. In this report we directly show that SCF alters the adhesion and migration of human melanocytes to extracellular matrix (ECM) ligands and regulates integrin expression at the protein level. SCF decreased adhesion of neonatal and fetal cells to collagen IV, and increased attachment of fetal cells to laminin. Attachment of fetal cells to fibronectin was decreased, but was unchanged in neonatal cells. Flow cytometry analysis of neonatal melanocytes showed that SCF down-regulated the expression of the alpha 2 receptor, and up-regulated the expression of the alpha 3, alpha 5 and beta 1 integrin receptors. SCF down-regulated expression of alpha 2, alpha 5 and beta 1 integrins by fetal melanocytes, and up-regulated expression of the alpha v and alpha 3 integrin receptors. Analysis of melanocyte migration using time-lapse videomicroscopy showed that SCF significantly increased migration of neonatal, but not fetal, melanocytes on fibronectin (FN). We conclude that SCF regulates integrin expression at the protein level and that SCF has pleiotropic effects on melanocyte attachment and migration on ECM ligands. We suggest that this may be one mechanism by which SCF regulates melanocyte migration during development of the skin.