Embryonic Stem Cells as a Model for Studying Melanocyte Development

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Melanocytes are neural crest-derived pigment-producing cells that reside in the inner ear, in the uveal tract, in hair follicles, and in the skin. The main function of melanocytes is to provide pigmentation through melanin production and secretion to the immediate surrounding area. Although much is known about mature melanocyte function and regulation, particularly in the skin, little is known with regard to the signals and gene expression patterns that ensue upon melanocyte development and differentiation from embryonic precursors. The ability to examine these patterns in an in vitro specified setting through the use of embryonic stem cells holds great potential for understanding melanocyte biology. In this chapter, we outline our procedures for the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells toward mature pigment-producing melanocytes that express the appropriate melanocytic markers and home to the epidermal basal layer in 3D skin reconstructs.