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Development. 2002 Jul;129(14):3349-57.

Neural crest progenitors of the melanocyte lineage: coat colour patterns revisited.

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MRC Human Genetics Unit, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, UK.


Neural crest-derived melanoblasts are the progenitors of melanocytes, the pigment cells of the skin, hair and choroid. Previous studies of adult chimaeric mice carrying different coat colour markers have suggested that the total melanocyte population is derived from a small number of melanoblast progenitors, each of which generates a discrete unilateral transverse band of colour. This work also suggested minimal mixing of cells between clones. We have used two complementary approaches to assess the behaviour of migrating clones of melanoblasts directly in the developing embryo. First, we made aggregation chimaeras between transgenic Dct-lacZ and non-transgenic embryos, in which lacZ is a marker for melanoblasts. Second, we generated transgenic mice carrying a modified lacZ reporter construct containing a 289 base pair duplication (laacZ) under the control of the Dct promoter. The laacZ transgene is normally inactive, but reverts to wild-type lacZ at low frequency, labelling a cell and all of its progeny at random. Mosaic embryos containing labelled melanoblast clones were generated. In contrast to previous data, chimaeric and mosaic embryonic melanoblast patterns suggest that: (1) there is a large number of melanoblast progenitors; (2) there is a pool of melanoblasts in the cervical region; (3) different cell dispersion mechanisms may operate in the head and trunk regions; and (4) there is extensive axial mixing between clones.

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