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J Invest Dermatol. 2001 Aug;117(2):341-7.

Keratinocytes play a role in regulating distribution patterns of recipient melanosomes in vitro.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio 45267-0592, USA.


Melanosomes in keratinocytes of Black skin are larger and distributed individually whereas those within keratinocytes of Caucasian skin are smaller and distributed in clusters. This disparity contributes to differences in skin pigmentation and photoprotection, but the control of these innate distribution patterns is poorly understood. To investigate this process, cocultures were established using melanocytes and keratinocytes derived from different racial backgrounds and were examined by electron microscopy. Melanosomes transferred to keratinocytes were categorized as individual or in various clusters. Melanosome size was also determined for individual and clustered melanosomes. Results indicate that, in our model system, melanosomes in keratinocytes from different racial backgrounds show a combination of clustered and individual melanosomes. When keratinocytes from dark skin were cocultured with melanocytes from (i) dark skin or (ii) light skin, however, recipient melanosomes were individual versus clustered in (i) 77% vs 23% and (ii) 64% vs 36%, respectively. In contrast, when keratinocytes from light skin were cocultured with melanocytes from (iii) dark skin or (iv) light skin, recipient melanosomes were individual versus clustered in (iii) 34% vs 66% and (iv) 39% vs 61%, respectively. These results indicate that recipient melanosomes, regardless of origin, are predominantly distributed individually by keratinocytes from dark skin, and in membrane-bound clusters by those from light skin. There were also differences in melanosome size from dark or light donor melanocytes. Melanosome size was not related to whether the melanosomes were distributed individually or clustered, however, in cocultures. These results suggest that regulatory factor(s) within the keratinocyte determine recipient melanosome distribution patterns.

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