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Endocrinology. 2005 Feb;146(2):532-43. Epub 2004 Oct 21.

A fully functional proopiomelanocortin/melanocortin-1 receptor system regulates the differentiation of human scalp hair follicle melanocytes.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Bradford, Bradford, West Yorkshire BD7 1DP, United Kingdom.


The proopiomelanocortin (POMC)-derived peptides, ACTH and alpha-MSH, are the principal mediators of human skin pigmentation via their action at the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC-1R). Recent data have demonstrated the existence of a functionally active beta-endorphin/mu-opiate receptor system in both epidermal and hair follicle melanocytes, whereby beta-endorphin can regulate melanogenesis, dendricity, and proliferation in these cells. However, a role for ACTH and alpha-MSH in the regulation of the human follicular pigmentary unit has not been determined. This study was designed to examine the involvement of ACTH and the alpha-MSH/MC-1R system in human follicular melanocyte biology. To address this question we employed RT-PCR and immunohisto/cytochemistry, and a functional role for these POMC peptides was assessed in follicular melanocyte cultures. Human scalp hair follicle melanocytes synthesized and processed POMC. ACTH and alpha-MSH in association with their processing enzymes and MC-1R are expressed in human follicular melanocytes at the message level in vitro and at the protein level both in situ and in vitro. The expression of the POMC/MC-1R receptor system was confined only to subpopulations of poorly and moderately differentiated melanocytes. In addition, functional studies revealed that ACTH and alpha-MSH are able to promote follicular melanocyte differentiation by up-regulating melanogenesis, dendricity, and proliferation in less differentiated melanocyte subpopulations. Thus, these findings suggest a role for these POMC peptides in regulating human hair follicle melanocyte differentiation.

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