, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 315-330
Date: 09 Feb 2013

Heterogeneity of neural crest-derived melanocytes

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The majority of melanocytes originate from the neural crest cells (NCC) that migrate, spread on the whole embryo’s body to form elements of the nervous system and skeleton, endocrinal glands, muscles and melanocytes. Human melanocytes differentiate mainly from the cranial and trunk NCC. Although melanocyte development has traditionally been associated with the dorsally migrating trunk NCC, there is evidence that a part of melanocytes arise from cells migrating ventrally. The ventral NCC differentiate into neurons and glia of the ganglia or Schwann cells. It has been suggested that the precursors for Schwann cells differentiate into melanocytes. As melanoblasts travel through the dermis, they multiply, follow the process of differentiation and invade the forming human fetal epidermis up to third month. After birth, melanocytes lose the ability to proliferate, except the hair melanocytes that renew during the hair cycle. The localization of neural crest-derived melanocytes in non-cutaneous places e.g. eye (the choroid and stroma of the iris and the ciliary body), ear (cells of the vestibular organ, cochlear stria vascularis), meninges of the brain, heart seems to indicate that repertoire of melanocyte functions is much wider than we expected e.g. the protection of tissues from potentially harmful factors (e.g. free radicals, binding toxins), storage ions, and anti-inflammatory action.