Human keratinocytes isolated from a skin biopsy and cultured in vitro reconstitute a stratified squamous epithelium suitable for grafting on burned patients. Melanocytes coisolated from the same skin biopsy also proliferate under these culture conditions and maintain differentiated functions (i.e., synthesize melanin granules, regularly intersperse in the basal layer of the cultured epidermis, and transfer melanosomes in the cytoplasm of contiguous keratinocytes) (De Luca, M., A. T. Franzi, F. D'Anna, A. Zicca, E. Albanese, S. Bondanza, and R. Cancedda. 1988. Eur. J. Cell Biol. 46:176-180). Isolated melanocytes in culture grow in the presence of specific growth factors with a mean population doubling time of 4-10 d. In this paper we show that (a) human keratinocytes and oral epithelial cells possess strong and specific melanocyte growth stimulating activity (doubling time, 24 h); (b) melanocyte growth is not autonomous but requires close keratinocyte contact and is regulated to maintain a physiological melanocytes/keratinocytes ratiol and (c) pure skin keratinocytes, but not oral epithelial cells, have all the information required for the proper physiological location and differentiation of melanocytes in the epidermis.

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