To clarify the paracrine linkage between human fibroblasts and melanocytes in cutaneous pigmentation, we studied the effects of human fibroblast-derived factors on the proliferation of human melanocytes. In medium conditioned for 4 days with human fibroblast culture, factors were produced that markedly stimulated DNA synthesis of human melanocytes. The stimulatory effect was higher in medium conditioned with fibroblasts from aged skin than in medium conditioned with fibroblasts from young skin, and was interrupted by inhibitors of tyrosine kinase, such as tyrphostin, genistein and herbimycin, but not by inhibitors of protein kinases C and A, such as H-7 and phloretin. The conditioned medium was also capable of activating mitogen-activated protein kinase of human melanocytes, with old fibroblasts being more effective than young ones. Analysis of factors released into the conditioned medium revealed that levels of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and stem cell factor (SCF) were increased in old-fibroblast-conditioned medium compared with young-fibroblast-conditioned medium. In contrast, levels of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) were similar in both media. When the conditioned medium was treated with HGF antibody with or without SCF antibody, the increase in DNA synthesis by human melanocytes was decreased to 20% of the elevated level, whereas antibodies to bFGF had no effect. Analysis of the medium conditioned for 4 days after cytokine application demonstrated that, of the cytokines tested, interleukin 1α and tumour necrosis factor α are highly effective in stimulating HGF secretion by old fibroblasts. HGF and SCF, but not bFGF, were markedly increased in culture medium in the presence of IL-1α, and this stimulatory effect was confined to young human fibroblasts. These findings suggest that SCF and HGF derived from human fibroblasts may play a part in regulating cutaneous pigmentation during inflammation and aging.

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