Melanocytes are cells of neural crest origin. In the human epidermis, they form a close association with keratinocytes via their dendrites. These cells are normally located on the outer part of the epidermis, one of the layers of the skin.
Mature melanocytes form long dendritic processes that ramify among the neighboring keratinocytes. In this way, each melanocyte makes contact with around 30–40 keratinocytes and this constitutes the epidermal-melanin unit. This association enables the melanocyte to transfer melanin into the keratinocytes, where it determines skin color and helps in protecting against the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation (UVR).
Melanocytes are derived from the neural crest. During development, presumptive melanocytes (melanoblasts) migrate to various sites including the skin, where they proliferate and then differentiate into melanin-producing cells.
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