The body coloration of animals is due to pigment cells derived from neural crest cells, which are multipotent and differentiate into diverse cell types. Medaka (Oryzias latipes) possesses four distinct types of pigment cells known as melanophores, xanthophores, iridophores, and leucophores. The few melanophore (fm) mutant of medaka is characterized by reduced numbers of melanophores and leucophores. We here identify kit-ligand a (kitlga) as the gene whose mutation gives rise to the fm phenotype. This identification was confirmed by generation of kitlga knockout medaka and the findings that these fish also manifest reduced numbers of melanophores and leucophores and fail to rescue the fm mutant phenotype. We also found that expression of sox5, pax7a, pax3a, and mitfa genes is down-regulated in both fm and kitlga knockout medaka, implicating c-Kit signaling in regulation of the expression of these genes as well as the encoded transcription factors in pigment cell specification. Our results may provide insight into the pathogenesis of c-Kit–related pigmentation disorders such as piebaldism in humans, and our kitlga knockout medaka may prove useful as a tool for drug screening.
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