Ultrastructure of melanocytes in chronically sun-exposed skin of elderly subjects.

A. S. Breathnach, M. Nazzaro-Porro, S. Passi, M. Picardo

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Chronically sun-exposed facial skin of three females aged 68, 71, and 78 years, and of a male aged 78, was examined by electron microscopy in order to study the condition of the epidermal melanocytes. Considerable heterogeneity of morphological and functional characteristics of the cells was observed. The majority of melanocytes were large, active, with occasionally lobulated or double nuclei, an appearance indicative of hyperstimulation. Some cells exhibited an appearance of having reached the end of an active life cycle and were labelled "aged." Others, in the upper end of the outer root sheath of hair follicles and adjacent interfollicular epidermis, presented a typically inactive appearance, indistinguishable from that of fetal melanocytes, or of those in unexposed skin of younger subjects. A cell with indented nucleus, fully melanised melanosomes, and hypertrophic Golgi apparatus was sporadically seen. Minute foci of dissociation of keratocytes were present, and melanocytes included in these were frequently disrupted. Swelling of mitochondria and cytoplasmic lipid droplets occurred sporadically within all the above variants of melanocytes. It proved difficult to establish criteria of specific sun damage of melanocytes. It is suggested that either the melanocytes exhibiting stimulation or the relatively inactive ones could be the precursors of the proliferating cells of lentigo maligna.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-79
Number of pages9
JournalPigment Cell Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science
  • Cell Biology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Developmental Biology


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