The longitudinal lanceolate endings are ubiquitous sensory terminals in the sinus and nonsinus hairs of mammals that form a palisade around the hair follicle. To analyze how the nerve endings detect hair movements, the present study re-examined their fine structure and relationships with surrounding connective tissue in rat vibrissae by using a combination of three methods: immunohistochemistry for S-100 protein, scanning electron microscopy of NaOH-macerated specimens, and transmission electron microscopy of serial sections. Observations showed the lanceolate endings to be represented by triplet units with a flattened axon terminal flanked on each side by a Schwann cell lamella, as reported previously. Two distinct parts were discriminated in the lanceolate ending: a principal portion in which the axon terminal protruded numerous fine fingers from between the Schwann cell coverings, and an apical cone that enclosed a large axon finger in an attenuated Schwann sheath. Long foot processes of Schwann cells fanned out distally from each apical cone. The principal portions of the lanceolate endings were firmly linked to the surrounding connective tissue by the narrow edges equipped with axon fingers, suggesting their continuous deformation by sustained hair deflections. In contrast, the apical cones were freely suspended in an amorphous matrix with only the end feet of the Schwann cell projections attached to rigid tissue elements. This part of the ending was proposed as a possible transducer site to generate rapidly adapting receptor potentials, both retreating and overshooting during the acceleration and deceleration phases of a given vibrissal movement.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.