MadSci Network: Cell Biology

Re: Can you have melanin injections to give your skin a darker complexion?

Date: Tue Dec 1 13:12:52 1998
Posted By: Art Anderson, Mucosal Immunology, USA Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases
Area of science: Cell Biology
ID: 906675053.Cb

 My short answer to this question is: No or most probably not. 
     Melanin is a natural pigment that is generated by melanocytes. 
     Melanocytes were once migratory cells derived from neural crest cells 
     during embryogenesis. 
     Some people have areas of absent skin pigmentation because the clonal 
     ancestor of neural crest cells died before it could migrate to the 
     specific region of skin where it was programmed to diferentiate into a 
     melanocyte. The distribution of these areas of absent pigmentation 
     resembles the "dermatome maps" of spinal cord sensory neurons. This is 
     because neural crest cells also lead to development of peripheral 
     nerve cells.
     The melanin pigment manufactured by melanocytes remains within 
     endosomes (vacuoles) in the cytoplasm of these cells. If you were to 
     inject melanin pigment into the skin you would not be able to control 
     its distribution as well as the distribution of melanocytes controls 
     distribution of cytoplasmic pigment. It would take an enormous amount 
     of small needle pricks to accomplish this. The pain by itself might 
     prevent someone from doing this. Furthermore, there would be no 
     certainty that the pigment would stay where it was injected. 
     Since melanin is a natural material, cells could engulf it and carry it 
     away, were it deposited in the extracellular matrix. Some cells might 
     concentrate it in phagocytic vacuoles which would yield dark dots of 
     pigment surrounded by unpigmented areas. Using existing Tattoo 
     pigments might be more successful in darkening patches of nonpigmented 
     skin, but there would be a cost of lots of pain.
     While it is not possible at present to cause melanocytes to develop in 
     areas where they are missing, it may be possible to stimulate existing 
     melanocytes to make more melanin. This is what happens when people get 
     a sun tan. 

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