Journal of Investigative Dermatology
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Melanocytes are pigment-producing cells found in the skin and other tissues. Alterations in the melanocyte lineage give rise to a plethora of human diseases, from neurocristopathies and pigmentation disorders to melanoma. During embryogenesis, neural crest cell subsets give rise to two waves of melanoblasts, which migrate dorsolaterally, hone to the skin, and differentiate into melanocytes. However, the mechanisms that govern colonization of the skin by the first wave of melanoblasts are poorly understood. Here we report that targeted inactivation of the integrin-linked kinase gene in first wave melanoblasts causes defects in the ability of these cells to form long pseudopods, to migrate, and to proliferate in vivo. As a result, integrin-linked kinase–deficient melanoblasts fail to populate normally the developing epidermis and hair follicles. We also show that defects in motility and dendricity occur upon integrin-linked kinase gene inactivation in mature melanocytes, causing abnormalities in cell responses to the extracellular matrix substrates collagen I and laminin 332. Significantly, the ability to form long protrusions in mutant cells in response to collagen is restored in the presence of constitutively active Rac1, suggesting that an integrin-linked kinase-Rac1 nexus is likely implicated in melanocytic cell establishment, dendricity, and functions in the skin.