2007 Volume 211 Issue 3 Pages 201-221
The skin is armored with “dead cells”, the stratum corneum, and is continuously exposed to external stressful environments, such as atmospheric oxygen, solar radiations, and thermal and chemical insults. Melanocytes of neural crest origin are located in the skin, eye, inner ear, and leptomeninges. Melanin pigment in the skin is produced by melanocytes under the influence of various endogenous factors, derived from neighboring keratinocytes and underlying fibroblasts. The differentiation and functions of melanocytes are regulated at multiple processes, including transcription, RNA editing, melanin synthesis, and the transport of melanosomes to keratinocytes. Impairment at each step causes the pigmentary disorders in humans, with the historical example of oculocutaneous albinism. Moreover, heterozygous mutations in the gene coding for microphthalmia-associated transcription factor, a key regulator for melanocyte development, are associated with Waardenburg syndrome type 2, an auditory-pigmentary disorder. Sun tanning, melasma, aging spots (lentigo senilis), hair graying, and melanoma are well-known melanocyte-related pathologies. Melanocytes therefore have attracted much attention of many ladies, makeup artists and molecular biologists. More recently, we have shown that lipocalin-type prostaglandin D synthase (L-PGDS) is expressed in melanocytes but not in other skin cell types. L-PGDS generates prostaglandin D2 and also functions as an inter-cellular carrier protein for lipophilic ligands, such as bilirubin and thyroid hormones. Thus, melanocytes may exert hitherto unknown functions through L-PGDS and prostaglandin D2. Here we update the neuroendocrine functions of melanocytes and discuss the possible involvement of melanocytes in the control of the central chemosensor that generates respiratory rhythm.