Validation of Methods for Isolation and Culture of Alpaca Melanocytes: A Novel Tool for In vitro Studies of Mechanisms Controlling Coat Color

  • Bai, Rui (College of Animal Science and Technology, Shanxi Agricultural University) ;
  • Sen, Aritro (Laboratory of Mammalian Reproductive Biology and Genomics, Departments of Animal Science and Physiology, Michigan State University) ;
  • Yu, Zhihui (College of Animal Science and Technology, Shanxi Agricultural University) ;
  • Yang, Gang (College of Animal Science and Technology, Shanxi Agricultural University) ;
  • Wang, Haidong (College of Animal Science and Technology, Shanxi Agricultural University) ;
  • Fan, Ruiwen (College of Animal Science and Technology, Shanxi Agricultural University) ;
  • Lv, Lihua (College of Animal Science and Technology, Shanxi Agricultural University) ;
  • Lee, Kyung-Bon (Laboratory of Mammalian Reproductive Biology and Genomics, Departments of Animal Science and Physiology, Michigan State University) ;
  • Smith, George W (College of Animal Science and Technology, Shanxi Agricultural University) ;
  • Dong, Changsheng (College of Animal Science and Technology, Shanxi Agricultural University)
  • Received : 2009.09.01
  • Accepted : 2009.10.30
  • Published : 2010.04.01


The objective of the present studies was to develop and validate a system for isolation, purification and extended culture of pigment-producing cells in alpaca skin (melanocytes) responsible for coat color and to determine the effect of alpha melanocyte stimulating hormone treatment on mRNA expression for the melanocortin 1 receptor, a key gene involved in coat color regulation in other species. Skin punch biopsies were harvested from the dorsal region of 1-3 yr old alpacas and three different enzyme digestion methods were evaluated for effects on yield of viable cells and attachment in vitro. Greatest cell yields and attachment were obtained following dispersion with dispase II relative to trypsin and trypsin-EDTA treatment. Culture of cells in medium supplemented with basic fibroblast growth factor, bovine pituitary extract, hydrocortisone, insulin, 12-O-tetradecanolphorbol-13-acetate and cholera toxin yielded highly pure populations of melanocytes by passage 3 as confirmed by detection of tyrosinase activity and immunocytochemical localization of melanocyte markers including tyrosinase, S-100 and micropthalmia-associated transcription factor. Abundance of mRNA for tyrosinase, a key enzyme in melanocyte pigment production, was maintained through 10 passages showing preservation of melanocyte phenotypic characteristics with extended culture. To determine hormonal responsiveness of cultured melanocytes and investigate regulation of melanocortin 1 receptor expression, cultured melanocytes were treated with increasing concentrations of ${\alpha}$-melanocyte stimulating hormone. Treatment with ${\alpha}$-melanocyte stimulating hormone increased melanocortin receptor 1 mRNA in a dose dependent fashion. The results demonstrated culture of pure populations of alpaca melanocytes to 10 passages and illustrate the potential utility of such cells for studies of intrinsic and extrinsic regulation of genes controlling pigmentation and coat color in fiber-producing species.


Alpaca;Alpha Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone;Coat Color;Melanocortin 1 Receptor;Melanocyte;Pigmentation


Supported by : China National Natural Science Foundation


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