Zebrafish helpful models to study skin conditions like vitiligo and melanoma, UMass Chan scientist writes

Source: Umass Chan Medical School News, July 2023

Melanocytes are a small subset of epidermal cells that play an outsize role in protecting your skin from the damaging effects of sun exposure. They do this by synthesizing melanins, which are pigments sent to other skin cells to shield them from harmful ultraviolet light. A lack of functioning melanocytes causes a wide range of skin conditions, including skin cancer and vitiligo, an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks melanocytes and causes patches of depigmented skin.

For nearly 20 years, I have been studying melanocytes and the role they play in disease. Difficulties growing human melanocytes in cell cultures have led researchers like me to use alternative models to study them.

My lab and others have pioneered the use of zebrafish to study melanocytes. Using this small freshwater fish as a model organism, my team and I recently discovered a new way in which melanocytes regenerate. This process enables flexibility for these cells to recover from injuries and may be applicable to other types of tissues.