Melanoma is one of the deadliest cancers, yet the cells of origin and mechanisms of tumor initiation remain unclear. The majority of melanomas emerge from clear skin without a precursor lesion, but it is unknown whether these melanomas can arise from melanocyte stem cells (MCSCs). Here we employ mouse models to define the role of MCSCs as melanoma cells of origin, demonstrate that MCSC quiescence acts as a tumor suppressor, and identify the extrinsic environmental and molecular factors required for the critical early steps of melanoma initiation. Specifically, melanomas originate from melanoma-competent MCSCs upon stimulation by UVB, which induces MCSC activation and translocation via an inflammation-dependent process. Moreover, the chromatin-remodeling factor Hmga2 in the skin plays a critical role in UVB-mediated melanomagenesis. These findings delineate melanoma formation from melanoma-competent MCSCs following extrinsic stimuli, and they suggest that abrogation of Hmga2 function in the microenvironment can suppress MCSC-originating cutaneous melanomas. White and colleagues define the critical early steps of melanoma development from adult melanocyte stem cells. Although stem cell quiescence can work as a tumor suppressor in cutaneous melanoma formation, UV radiation can initiate melanoma formation from these quiescent melanocyte stem cells via an immune-dependent process.
Moon, H., Donahue, L. R., Choi, E., Scumpia, P. O., Lowry, W. E., Grenier, J. K., … White, A. C. (2017). Melanocyte Stem Cell Activation and Translocation Initiate Cutaneous Melanoma in Response to UV Exposure. Cell Stem Cell, 21(5), 665-678.e6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.stem.2017.09.001