Melanocytic nevi are a common dermatological problem for which there are few in vivo models. It has been postulated that environmental factors contribute to their development. Experiments were therefore conducted to determine whether application of dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA) to the skin of mice would result in the development of melanocytic nevi. One hundred microliters of a 0.1%, 0.5%, or 1.0% solution of DMBA was applied to the dorsal skin of C3H/HeN mice. The mice were then observed for the appearance of pigmented lesions. Histological examination revealed perifollicular accumulations of nevus cells, which were S-100-protein and HMB-45-positive, confirming their melanocytic origin. Pigmented lesions did not occur in animals treated with vehicle alone. Dose response studies revealed both greater numbers of nevi and lesions with larger diameters as the dose of DMBA was increased from 0.1% to 0.5%. In no instance was an invasive melanoma observed even after 40 weeks. The fact that melanocytic nevi can be produced by topical application of DMBA suggests that xenobiotics may play a previously unrecognized role in the development of this common benign neoplasm. Because this is one of the only animal models for melanocytic nevi, further examination of this model may facilitate identification of the molecular and biochemical mechanisms that lead to the development of pigmented nevi and the factors that promote their evolution into invasive melanomas. © 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.