The effects of low-dose γ-rays on the embryonic development of animal cells are not well studied. The mouse melanocyte is a good model to study the effects of low-dose γ-rays on the development of animal cells, as it possesses visible pigment (melanin) as a differentiation marker. The aim of this study is to investigate in detail the effects of low-dose γ-rays on embryonic development of mouse melanoblasts and melanocytes in the epidermis and hair bulbs at cellular level. Pregnant females of C57BL/10J mice at nine days of gestation were whole-body irradiated with a single acute dose of γrays (0.1, 0.25, 0.5, and 0.75 Gy), and the effects of γ-rays were studied by scoring changes in the development of epidermal melanoblasts and melanocytes, hair follicles, and hair bulb melanocytes at 18 days in gestation. The number of epidermal melanoblasts and melanocytes, hair follicles, and hair bulb melanocytes in the dorsal and ventral skins was markedly decreased even at 0.1 Gy-treated embryos (P < 0.001), and gradually decreased as dose increased. The effects on the ventral skin were greater than those on the dorsal skin. The dramatic reduction in the number of melanocytes compared to melanoblasts was observed in the ventral skin, but not in the dorsal skin. These results suggest that low-dose γ-rays provoke the death of melanoblasts and melanocytes, or inhibit the proliferation and differentiation of melanoblasts and melanocytes, even at the low dose.
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