Human skin is repeatedly exposed to mechanical stretching in vivo, but in an ordinary culture of skin cells this prominent feature has been neglected. In order to study whether mechanical stretching plays a role for human melanocytes, we have established a culture technique to mimic this physical stretching: primary cultures of human melanocytes were plated on silicon supports, which undergo a stretching of about 10% of the initial length. After application of repeated stretching and relaxation for 4 days, cell count was significantly (about 40%) enhanced. In addition, we found approximately 2-fold increase in heat shock protein (HSP) 90, both at the protein and mRNA level. HSP 90 is known to bind to Raf-1 and, therefore, may contribute to the Raf-1-MEK (mitogen-activated protein-kinase kinase)-MAPK (mitogen-activated protein-kinase) signaling pathway. Disruption of the Raf-1-HSP 90 multimolecular complex by geldanamycin lead to a considerable decrease in melanocyte cell count. However, geldanamycin did not reverse the stretch-induced growth stimulation. Therefore, the stretch-mediated up-regulation of HSP 90 expression in melanocytes appears to be independent of stretch-mediated growth stimulation. These findings have strong implications for the in vitro cultivation of melanocytes for transplantation purposes.