This is the deepest layer of the epidermis. It is a single layer of cells on a basement membrane and lies directly on the papillary layer of the dermis. The capillary network of the dermis provides nutrients for these living cells.
The cells have a nucleus and multiply by mitosis (cell division).
Approximately one in ten of these basal cells are specialised cells called melanocytes. They produce the pigment melanin from the amino acid tyrosine.
Melanin is produced to protect the cells against the damaging effect of ultraviolet radiation. It gives the skin its brown colour.
This layer also contains the nerve endings sensitive to touch (Merkel's discs).
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