A reporter mouse model for in vivo tracing and in vitro molecular studies of melanocytic lineage cells and their diseases
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Alterations in melanocytic lineage cells give rise to a plethora of distinct human diseases, including neurocristopathies, cutaneous pigmentation disorders, loss of vision and hearing, and melanoma. Understanding the ontogeny and biology of melanocytic cells, as well as how they interact with their surrounding environment, are key steps in the development of therapies for diseases that involve this cell lineage. Efforts to culture and characterize primary melanocytes from normal or genetically engineered mouse models have at times yielded contrasting observations. This is due, in part, to differences in the conditions used to isolate, purify and culture these cells in individual studies. By breeding ROSAmT/mG and Tyr::CreERT2 mice, we generated animals in which melanocytic lineage cells are identified through expression of green fluorescent protein. We also used defined conditions to systematically investigate the proliferation and migration responses of primary melanocytes on various extracellular matrix (ECM) substrates. Under our culture conditions, mouse melanocytes exhibit doubling times in the range of 10 days, and retain exponential proliferative capacity for 50-60 days. In culture, these melanocytes showed distinct responses to different ECM substrates. Specifically, laminin-332 promoted cell spreading, formation of dendrites, random motility and directional migration. In contrast, low or intermediate concentrations of collagen I promoted adhesion and acquisition of a bipolar morphology, and interfered with melanocyte forward movements. Our systematic evaluation of primary melanocyte responses emphasizes the importance of clearly defining culture conditions for these cells. This, in turn, is essential for the interpretation of melanocyte responses to extracellular cues and to understand the molecular basis of disorders involving the melanocytic cell lineage.