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J Invest Dermatol. 2008 Feb;128(2):408-20. Epub 2007 Jul 26.

In vitro expansion of immature melanoblasts and their ability to repopulate melanocyte stem cells in the hair follicle.

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Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology, RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, Kobe, Japan.


Elucidation of the molecular mechanisms underlying stem cell regulation is of great importance both for basic biology and for clinical applications. Melanocyte stem cells (MSCs) are an excellent model in which to study the molecular basis of stem cell regulation, as the genetic alterations involved in the maintenance of the stem cells are readily identifiable by a premature hair graying phenotype. Research on MSCs has been hampered by the lack of a reliable system to assay their function. Here, by co-culturing highly purified melanoblasts (MBs) with XB2 keratinocytes, we describe an efficient culture method that allows the expansion of immature MBs in vitro. These MBs are also capable of undergoing terminal differentiation into mature melanocytes (MCs) when differentiation is induced. Furthermore, by performing a hair-follicle reconstitution assay in which expanded MBs in a mixture of epidermal and dermal cells were grafted to reconstitute a hair follicle, we demonstrate that the expanded MBs retain their capacity to become incorporated into newly developed hair follicles and repopulate the MC stem cell population there. Thus, by integrating genetic manipulations in cultured MBs in vitro, this method provides a powerful tool with which to study the molecular basis of stem cell regulation.

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