Tissue interactions and antlerogenesis: new findings revealed by a xenograft approach

J Exp Zool. 2001 Jun 15;290(1):18-30. doi: 10.1002/jez.1032.


Tissue interactions play a pivotal role in organogenesis. Here we describe a xenograft approach to investigate how heterotypic tissue interactions control antler formation in deer. Deciduous antlers grow from the apices of permanent protuberances, called pedicles. Histogenesis of pedicles depends on the antlerogenic periosteum (AP). Pedicles and growing antlers are made up of interior osseocartilage (a mixture of bone and cartilaginous tissue) and exterior skin. In a previous study we hypothesised that pedicle growth may result from mechanical interactions between the interior and exterior components whereas antler generation from a pedicle would involve molecules communicating between the interior and exterior components. To test this hypothesis, we subcutaneously transplanted AP of red deer (Cervus elaphus), either alone or with future pedicle skin, onto nude mice. The results showed that under the nude mouse skin, subcutaneously xenografted AP alone not only could form pedicle-shaped protuberances but also could differentiate into well-organised pedicle-like structures. The overlying mouse skin accommodated the expansion of the grafted AP by initial mechanical stretching and subsequent formation of new skin. Nude mouse skin was not capable of participating in antler tissue formation. However, grafted deer skin together with AP may have successfully rescued this failure after wounding, which highlights the necessity of the specificity of the overlying skin for antler tissue generation. Therefore, we conclude that it is the interaction between the antlerogenic tissue and the overlying skin that results in antlerogenesis: reciprocal mechanical interactions cause pedicle formation, whereas reciprocal instructive interactions induce first antler generation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antlers / growth & development*
  • Cell Communication
  • Deer / growth & development*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Periosteum / growth & development
  • Transplantation, Heterologous