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Cells take sole responsibility for merkel cell maintenance

Date:
January 26, 2015
Source:
The Rockefeller University Press
Summary:
A population of “progenitor” cells in the skin that are solely responsible for the generation and maintenance of touch-sensing Merkel cells have been identified by scientists. Merkel cells are unique cells located in the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin. Through connections to nerve endings, Merkel cells play critical roles in our sense of touch. They are hypothesized to be the cells that undergo cancerous transformation and cause Merkel cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer with no effective treatment.
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After six months, whisker follicles in adult mice lacking Atoh1-expressing progenitor skin cells (left) have a deficiency of Merkel cells (green) compared with a control group (right).
Credit: Wright et al., 2015

Researchers have identified a population of "progenitor" cells in the skin that are solely responsible for the generation and maintenance of touch-sensing Merkel cells. The study appears in The Journal of Cell Biology.

Merkel cells are unique cells located in the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin. Through connections to nerve endings, Merkel cells play critical roles in our sense of touch. They are hypothesized to be the cells that undergo cancerous transformation and cause Merkel cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer with no effective treatment.

Merkel cells require a transcription factor called Atoh1 for their specification. But the identity of the progenitor, or stem cells, that give rise to Merkel cells during embryonic development and adulthood is unclear. In the study, Stephen Maricich and colleagues identified a subpopulation of Atoh1-expressing cells in hair and whisker follicles within mouse skin that exclusively give rise to Merkel cells during development and adulthood. Removing Atoh1-positive skin cells in adult mice led to a permanent reduction in Merkel cell numbers, showing that other stem cell populations are incapable of producing Merkel cells.

Importantly, the findings suggest that, if Merkel cell carcinoma does arise from Merkel cell progenitors, then Atoh1-positive Merkel cell precursors could be the cells of origin. This discovery will therefore help researchers dissect the cell-specific events mediating tumorigenesis in the particular case of Merkel cell carcinoma.


Story Source:

Materials provided by The Rockefeller University Press. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. C. Wright, E. G. Reed-Geaghan, A. M. Bolock, T. Fujiyama, M. Hoshino, S. M. Maricich. Unipotent, Atoh1 progenitors maintain the Merkel cell population in embryonic and adult mice. The Journal of Cell Biology, 2015; DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201407101

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The Rockefeller University Press. "Cells take sole responsibility for merkel cell maintenance." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 January 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150126095329.htm>.
The Rockefeller University Press. (2015, January 26). Cells take sole responsibility for merkel cell maintenance. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150126095329.htm
The Rockefeller University Press. "Cells take sole responsibility for merkel cell maintenance." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150126095329.htm (accessed May 23, 2017).

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