New study resolves the mysterious origin of Merkel cells

Sep 28, 2009
Merkel cells (red) fail to differentiate from epidermal stem cells in mouse skin lacking Atoh1 (right). The study appears in the October 5, 2009, issue of the Journal of Cell Biology. Credit: Van Keymeulen, A., et al. 2009. J. Cell Biol. doi:10.1083/jcb.200907080.

A new study resolves a 130-year-old mystery over the developmental origin of specialized skin cells involved in touch sensation. The findings will appear in the October 5, 2009 issue of the Journal of Cell Biology.

First described in 1875, Merkel are neuroendocrine cells that reside in the vertebrate epidermis, passing mechanical stimuli on to sensory neurons. In mice, they are mainly found in the paws and around the whiskers but, because they express proteins characteristic of both epithelial and neuronal cells, scientists have long debated whether Merkel cells develop from the epidermis or neural crest.

Van Keymeulen et al. traced the lineage of Merkel cells by fluorescently labeling cells derived from either epidermal or neural crest . This revealed that Merkel cells originally emerge from the embryonic epidermis. In addition, epidermal stem cells in adult mouse replenish the Merkel cell population as they slowly die off over time. The researchers also found that a transcription factor called Atoh1 is required for epidermal progenitors to differentiate into Merkel cells--mice lacking Atoh1 in their skin failed to develop any of the mechanotransducing cells.

Atoh1 acts as a tumor suppressor to prevent an aggressive skin cancer called Merkel cell , says senior author Cédric Blanpain. His team now wants to investigate the precise function of the transcription factor in Merkel cell differentiation, as well as the signaling pathways that regulate the process.

More information: Van Keymeulen, A., et al. 2009. J. Cell Biol. doi:10.1083/jcb.200907080

Source: Rockefeller University (news : web)

Explore further: Two-armed control of ATR, a master regulator of the DNA damage checkpoint

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Suppressing cancer with a master control gene

Feb 23, 2009

Starting with the tiny fruit fly and then moving into mice and humans, researchers at VIB and K. U. Leuven show that expression of the same gene suppresses cancer in all three organisms. Reciprocally, switching off the gene ...

Epigenetic mark guides stem cells toward their destiny

Mar 19, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Not all stem cells are completely blank slates. Some, known as adult stem cells, have already partially embraced their fates and are capable of becoming only cells of a particular type of ...

Recommended for you

Japanese scientist resigns over stem cell scandal

6 hours ago

A researcher embroiled in a fabrication scandal that has rocked Japan's scientific establishment said Friday she would resign after failing to reproduce results of what was once billed as a ground-breaking study on ...

'Hairclip' protein mechanism explained

20 hours ago

Research led by the Teichmann group on the Wellcome Genome Campus has identified a fundamental mechanism for controlling protein function. Published in the journal Science, the discovery has wide-ranging implications for bi ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.