Most in vitro studies in experimental skin biology have been done in 2-dimensional (2D) monocultures, while accumulating evidence suggests that cells behave differently when they are grown within a 3D extra-cellular matrix and also interact with other cells (1-5). Mouse models have been broadly utilized to study tissue morphogenesis in vivo. However mouse and human skin have significant differences in cellular architecture and physiology, which makes it difficult to extrapolate mouse studies to humans. Since melanocytes in mouse skin are mostly localized in hair follicles, they have distinct biological properties from those of humans, which locate primarily at the basal layer of the epidermis. The recent development of 3D human skin reconstruct models has enabled the field to investigate cell-matrix and cell-cell interactions between different cell types. The reconstructs consist of a "dermis" with fibroblasts embedded in a collagen I matrix, an "epidermis", which is comprised of stratified, differentiated keratinocytes and a functional basement membrane, which separates epidermis from dermis. Collagen provides scaffolding, nutrient delivery, and potential for cell-to-cell interaction. The 3D skin models incorporating melanocytic cells recapitulate natural features of melanocyte homeostasis and melanoma progression in human skin. As in vivo, melanocytes in reconstructed skin are localized at the basement membrane interspersed with basal layer keratinocytes. Melanoma cells exhibit the same characteristics reflecting the original tumor stage (RGP, VGP and metastatic melanoma cells) in vivo. Recently, dermal stem cells have been identified in the human dermis (6). These multi-potent stem cells can migrate to the epidermis and differentiate to melanocytes.
Keywords: Bioengineering, Issue 54, 3D model, melanocyte, melanoma, skin