Epidermal melanocytes play an important role in protecting the skin from UV rays, and their functional impairment results in pigment disorders. Additionally, melanomas are considered to arise from mutations that accumulate in melanocyte stem cells. The mechanisms underlying melanocyte differentiation and the defining characteristics of melanocyte stem cells in humans are, however, largely unknown. In the present study, we set out to generate melanocytes from human iPS cells in vitro, leading to a preliminary investigation of the mechanisms of human melanocyte differentiation. We generated iPS cell lines from human dermal fibroblasts using the Yamanaka factors (SOX2, OCT3/4, and KLF4, with or without c-MYC). These iPS cell lines were subsequently used to form embryoid bodies (EBs) and then differentiated into melanocytes via culture supplementation with Wnt3a, SCF, and ET-3. Seven weeks after inducing differentiation, pigmented cells expressing melanocyte markers such as MITF, tyrosinase, SILV, and TYRP1, were detected. Melanosomes were identified in these pigmented cells by electron microscopy, and global gene expression profiling of the pigmented cells showed a high similarity to that of human primary foreskin-derived melanocytes, suggesting the successful generation of melanocytes from iPS cells. This in vitro differentiation system should prove useful for understanding human melanocyte biology and revealing the mechanism of various pigment cell disorders, including melanoma.
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