Ultrastructure of melanocyte-keratinocyte interactions and pigment transfer in vitro
Skin pigmentation in mammals involves the interaction of epidermal melanocytes and keratinocytes in the structural and functional unit known as the Epidermal Melanin Unit. Melanocytes(M) synthesize melanin within specialized membrane-bound organelles, the melanosome or pigment granule. These are subsequently transferred by way of M dendrites to keratinocytes(K) by a mechanism still to be clearly defined. Three different, though not necessarily mutually exclusive, mechanisms of melanosome transfer have been proposed: cytophagocytosis by K of M dendrite tips containing melanosomes, direct injection of melanosomes into the K cytoplasm through a cell-to-cell pore or communicating channel formed by localized fusion of M and K cell membranes, release of melanosomes into the extracellular space(ECS) by exocytosis followed by K uptake using conventional phagocytosis. Variability in methods of transfer has been noted both in vivo and in vitro and there is evidence in support of each transfer mechanism. We Have previously studied M-K interactions in vitro using time-lapse cinemicrography and in vivo at the ultrastructural level using lanthanum tracer and freeze-fracture.