Melanocytes in the skin play an indispensable role in the pigmentation of skin and its appendages. It is well known that the embryonic origin of melanocytes is neural crest cells. In adult skin, functional melanocytes are continuously repopulated by the differentiation of melanocyte stem cells (McSCs) residing in the epidermis of the skin. Many preceding studies have led to significant discoveries regarding the cellular and molecular characteristics of this unique stem cell population. The alteration of McSCs has been also implicated in several skin abnormalities and disease conditions. To date, our knowledge of McSCs largely comes from studying the stem cell niche of mouse hair follicles. Suggested by several anatomical differences between mouse and human skin, there could be distinct features associated with mouse and human McSCs as well as their niches in the skin. Recent advances in human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) research have provided us with useful tools to potentially acquire a substantial amount of human McSCs and functional melanocytes for research and regenerative medicine applications. This review highlights recent studies and progress involved in understanding the development of cutaneous melanocytes and the regulation of McSCs.
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