A fluorescent microscopic study of the development of rat touch domes and their merkel cells
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The ability of the fluorescent dye quinacrine to label epidermal Merkel cells was used to study the development of touch domes (Haarscheiben) in rat skin. In embryonic and early postnatal pups, sites of touch dome primordia were reliably located within strips of separated trunk epidermis by the occurrence of discrete clusters of fluorescent cells scattered across the basal cell layer. As in excised adult domes, most of these fluorescent (Merkel) cells lay caudal to the emerging tylotrich hair follicle and the cell cluster formed an annular or crescentric disc. Though all the touch domes that comprise the adult population appear to contain labelled Merkel cells by postnatal day 4, the number of these cells per dome continues to increase some 3-4 fold after birth to reach the average adult number (ca 90 cells) on the dorsal trunk around the fifth week. At about this time the adult size (ca 250 micron) of the dorsal Haarscheiben is also reached, as estimated by the length of the long axis of the fluorescent disc. The rostro-caudal orientation of this long axis varied from dome to dome, usually in the range 0-45 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise, and a functional correlate of this is suggested. The density of labelled dome primordia is higher on the dorsal than on the ventral trunk from as early as embryonic day E20-21 and remains higher although the density of domes decreases steadily across the skin during postnatal growth of the animal. This study utilizes a novel fluorescent labelling technique that is applicable to microscopic studies on the development of Merkel cells within their epithelial locations, in this instance the rat touch domes. Although the full population of domes is established early in development, the Merkel cells within a dome continue to increase in number for several weeks after physiological function is known to appear in this structure.
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