The Genetic Regulation of Pigment Cell Development

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Abstract

Pigment cells in developing vertebrates are derived from a transient and pluripotent population of cells called neural crest. The neural crest delaminates from the developing neural tube and overlying ectoderm early in development. The pigment cells are the only derivative to migrate along the dorso-lateral pathway. As they migrate, the precursor pigment cell population differentiates and expands through proliferation and pro-survival processes, ultimately contributing to the coloration of organisms. The types of pigment cells that develop, timing of these processes, and final destination can vary between organisms. Studies from mice, chick, Xenopus, zebrafish, and medaka have led to the identification of many genes that regulate pigment cell development. These include several classes of proteins: transcription factors, transmembrane receptors, and extracellular ligands. This chapter discusses an overview of pigment cell development and the genes that regulate this important process.