Evidence is provided that human skin, the largest body organ exposed to multiple stressors, expresses proopiomelanocortin (POMC), corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) and CRH-receptor (CRHR) genes in vivo. In vitro studies show that POMC and CRHR mRNAs are transcribed in melanocytes, cells derived from the neural crest, and in keratinocytes, cells derived from the ectoderm. CRH mRNA is transcribed in cultured melanocytes but not in keratinocytes. It is proposed that an equivalent of the 'hypothalamus-pituitary axis' composed of the CRH-CRHR-POMC loop is conserved in mammalian skin. © 1995.