Our confocal three-dimensional analyses revealed substantial differences in the innervation to vibrissal follicle-sinus complexes (FSCs) in the rat and cat. This is the first study using anti-protein gene product 9.5 (PGP9.5) immunolabeling and confocal microscopy on thick sections to examine systematically the terminal arborizations of the various FSC endings and to compare them between two species, the rat and the cat, that have similar-appearing FSCs but different exploratory behaviors, such as existence or absence of whisking. At least eight distinct endings were clearly discriminated three dimensionally in this study: 1) Merkel endings at the rete ridge collar, 2) circumferentially oriented lanceolate endings, 3) Merkel endings at the level of the ring sinus, 4) longitudinally oriented lanceolate endings, 5) club-like ringwulst endings, 6) reticular endings, 7) spiny endings, and 8) encapsulated endings. Of particular contrast, each nerve fiber that innervates Merkel cells at the level of the ring sinus in the rat usually terminates as a single, relatively small cluster of endings, whereas in the cat they terminate en passant as several large clusters of endings. Also, individual arbors of reticular endings in the rat ramify parallel to the vibrissae and distribute over wide, overlapping territories, whereas those in the cat ramify perpendicular and terminate in tightly circumscribed territories. Otherwise, the inner conical body of rat FSCs contains en passant, circumferentially oriented lanceolate endings that are lacking in the cat, whereas the cavernous sinus of the cat has en passant corpuscular endings that are lacking in the rat. Surprisingly, the one type of innervation that is the most similar in both species is a major set of simple, club-like endings, located at the attachment of the ringwulst, that had not previously been recognized as a morphologically unique type of innervation. Although the basic structure of the FSCs is similar in the rat and cat, the numerous differences in innervation suggest that these species would have different tactile capabilities and perceptions possibly related to their different vibrissa-related exploratory behaviors.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.