Pigment Cell Melanoma Res. 28; 1

What shall we do this year? With a new year upon us, it is perhaps opportune to consider some of the outstanding questions in the field of pigment cell biology. Of course, we all will have our own favoured questions, but hopefully many of us would agree that the following are amongst the most pressing. One field where pigment cell biology has always had a prominent place is that of pattern formation, with striped and spotted patterns, especially in cats and in fish, being highly favoured by the researchers. In recent years, several groups working on zebrafish have been characterizing the cell biology and some key genetic components, but we still await a comprehensive integration of all these data. Work on these questions in mammalian systems – rodents, cats and horses, in particular – is also progressing fast, and it will be intriguing to see whether there are any cryptic conserved evolutionary mechanisms between these groups. The genetic and cellular mechanisms controlling the production of derivative cells from stem cells have been an area where, again, the pigment cells are a key test case. In mammalian systems, means to identify these stem cells are improving, but definitive markers in other systems are badly needed. Identification of such markers will substantially speed the definition of their niches, and the mechanisms controlling the formation and controlled differentiation of these cells. While most studies in the mammalian system have focused on the follicular stem cells and their niche, more efforts should be made to characterize the putative interfollicular reservoir and the kinds of interactions these cells may have with other skin cells. This is of particular relevance in the case of human skin because of the possible direct application of melanocyte stem cells and the factors that control their differentiation in the treatment of pigmentary disorders such as vitiligo and melanoma.

ª 2014 John Wiley & Sons A/S. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd

The melanocyte has also been a prime model for understanding how genes drive phenotypes. In the current age of systems biology, the target must be a comprehensive, quantitative model of this process, but steps in this direction have only recently begun, and we would predict a deeper understanding is still some way off. Such an understanding would have profound implications for our understanding of genotype–phenotype correlations and disease mechanisms. Predicting phenotypic consequences of mutant alleles of the relevant transcription factors seems like it should be relatively straightforward, but this still eludes us. Do we even have a predictive understanding of the consequences of individual mutations of enzymes such as tyrosinase? We are even more ignorant about how melanocyte development and pigment production are regulated at the epigenetic level. Although much progress has been made on how dysregulated DNA methylation and demethylation/hydroxymethylation, histone modification and noncoding RNAs affect the generation of melanoma, very few studies have addressed these molecular regulatory mechanisms in pigment cell biology. It seems that there remain plenty of questions to occupy our community and to fill the pages of PCMR for some considerable time to come. As always, we look forward to the contributions of each of you to the intellectual adventure that is pigment cell research. Robert Kelsh, Lidia Kos, Heinz Arnheiter, Andrew Aplin, Marcus Bosenberg Editors doi: 10.1111/pcmr.12342


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What shall we do this year?

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