Ultrastructural autoradiographic and immunocytochemical analysis of setae formation and keratinization in the digital pads of the gecko Hemidactylus turcicus (Gekkonidae, Reptilia)

Tissue Cell. 2003 Aug;35(4):288-96. doi: 10.1016/s0040-8166(03)00050-8.


The modified subdigital scales of some lizards allow them to climb vertical surfaces. This is due to the action of millions of tiny setae present in the digital pads. Setae are mainly composed of beta-keratin which may have some modality of aggregation similar to that of barbs and barbules of feathers. Keratins and associated proteins are involved in the organization of setae. The formation of setae in the climbing pad lamellae of the gecko Hemidactylus turcicus has been analyzed under the electron microscope after injection of tritiated histidine and immunocytochemistry for a chick scale beta-keratin. Setae are made up of dense and pale filaments, both oriented along the longer axis of setae. Beta-keratin is present in the oberhautchen layer and in the growing setae which are highly modified oberhautchen cells. Most of the immunolabeling concentrated in the central part of setae. This cross-reactivity suggests that some epitopes in chick beta-keratin are also present in gecko setae. Four hours after injection of tritiated histidine, the labeling is localized over setae, in particular in the dense filaments and less in the pale filaments. Some labeling is also seen in the keratinaceous material present in the cytoplasm of clear cells, which are believed to mold setae. The present observations suggest that both beta-keratin and denser matrix proteins, possibly incorporating histidine, are packed into growing setae. These proteins may be mixed to form pale and dense filaments oriented along the longer axis of setae, a pattern resembling that of barb and barbule cells of feathers. The role of matrix material in the orientation of the deposited beta-keratin during setal outgrowth is discussed with the problem of barb and barbule differentiation in avian feathers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoradiography
  • Epidermal Cells
  • Epidermis / metabolism*
  • Epidermis / ultrastructure*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Keratins / metabolism*
  • Keratins / ultrastructure*
  • Lizards / anatomy & histology*
  • Toes / anatomy & histology*


  • Keratins