Characterization of Merkel cells and mechanosensory axons of the rat by styryl pyridinium dyes
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The epidermal Merkel cells and their sensory innervation serve tactile sensation in vertebrates. In this study the fluorescent cationic mitochondrial dye, 4-(4-diethylaminostyryl)-N-methylpyridinium iodide (4-Di-2-ASP), which has recently been used as a vital stain for motor and autonomic nerve terminals, was tested for its ability to stain Merkel cells and sensory fibers in the snout of the rat. Brightly-fluorescent structures resembling Merkel cells as well as nerve fibers and their terminations were evident in whole mounts of the vibrissal follicle. Unilateral denervation of the vibrissal follicles soon after birth resulted in a staining pattern remarkably similar to that obtained after labelling of the Merkel cells selectively with the fluorescent marker quinacrine, but all fiber staining was abolished. Likewise, in the separated epidermis of other skin regions, including the hairy and glabrous skin of the nose, the staining pattern revealed by 4-Di-2-ASP was indistinguishable from that obtained by quinacrine fluorescence. These results indicate that certain styryl pyridinium dyes may be used as vital stains for epidermal Merkel cells as well as cutaneous mechanosensory axons.
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