Many melanocyte or skin equivalent models have been used to evaluate the potential efficacy of melanogenic compounds to regulate pigmentation, but there has been great variation in results, partially stemming from the use of different cell lines and diverse conditions for the melanogenic assays. In an earlier report, we optimized a microtiter format assay system to screen potential bioactive compounds using immortalized melan-a melanocytes. That assay system, termed the STOPR protocol, allowed effects on melanocyte proliferation and differentiation to be assessed in a highly sensitive, reproducible, and cost-effective manner. However, in the skin and hair, melanocytes interact with keratinocytes, fibroblasts, and other cell types, and testing of putative bioactive compounds on melanocytes alone in culture does not allow one to observe the interactions with those other cell types, such as would occur in vivo. Therefore, we developed a melanocyte-keratinocyte coculture protocol that allows testing of compounds for potential effects on pigmentation in a more physiologically relevant context. It is a sensitive, reproducible, and reliable model for testing melanogenic regulators, and we have standardized it with known melanogenic inhibitors (hydroquinone, arbutin, kojic acid, and niacinamide) and stimulators (alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone, 8-methoxypsoralen, and 3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine). This coculture system allows for large-scale screening of candidate compounds in conjunction with the STOPR protocol and provides a more physiologically relevant system to study melanocyte-keratinocyte interactions and to elucidate the regulatory mechanisms of melanogenic compounds.
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