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Normal human merkel cells are present in epidermal cell populations isolated and cultured from glabrous and hairy skin sites

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Elsevier Science
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The Merkel cell is a highly specialized cell that primarily acts as a slowly adapting mechanoreceptor. Merkel cells are scarce in normal skin but can be identified by the expression of distinct keratin filaments. Merkel cells constitute a very unique population and many questions still remain as to their origin, number, proliferative capacity, and functions in cutaneous biology. The dissociation of epidermal cells from skin is a widely used technique to extract and culture keratinocytes. We took advantage of a two-step extraction method to quantify keratin-20-expressing Merkel cells among total cutaneous cells obtained from either hairy or glabrous skin biopsies. Flow cytometry analysis revealed that keratin-20-labeled Merkel cells represent between 3.6% and 5.7% of freshly dissociated basal epidermal cells. No significant differences were seen between samples derived from glabrous palmar and hairy anatomic sites, from children and adult, respectively. We also report on the presence of Merkel cells in primary and first subcultures of epidermal cells indicating their capacity to remain viable after extraction from skin of various anatomic sites. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of nontumorigenic human Merkel cells in culture in vitro. The persistence of a small number of Merkel cells in culture suggests that, with the development of appropriate culture conditions, these cells could be amplified and further studied to unravel long-standing questions relative to their paracrine function or epithelial origin.

Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Vol. 120 (2), 313-317 (2003)
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Culture , Human skin , Keratins , mechanoreceptor , Merkel cells
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article de recherche