Facial Mechanosensory Influence on Forelimb Movement in Newborn Opossums, Monodelphis domestica

PLoS One. 2016 Feb 5;11(2):e0148352. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148352. eCollection 2016.


The opossum, Monodelphis domestica, is born very immature but crawls, unaided, with its forelimbs (FL) from the mother's birth canal to a nipple where it attaches to pursue its development. What sensory cues guide the newborn to the nipple and trigger its attachment to it? Previous experiments showed that low intensity electrical stimulation of the trigeminal ganglion induces FL movement in in vitro preparations and that trigeminal innervation of the facial skin is well developed in the newborn. The skin does not contain Vater-Pacini or Meissner touch corpuscles at this age, but it contains cells which appear to be Merkel cells (MC). We sought to determine if touch perceived by MC could exert an influence on FL movements. Application of the fluorescent dye AM1-43, which labels sensory cells such as MC, revealed the presence of a large number of labeled cells in the facial epidermis, especially in the snout skin, in newborn opossums. Moreover, calibrated pressure applied to the snout induced bilateral and simultaneous electromyographic responses of the triceps muscle in in vitro preparations of the neuraxis and FL from newborn. These responses increase with stimulation intensity and tend to decrease over time. Removing the facial skin nearly abolished these responses. Metabotropic glutamate 1 receptors being involved in MC neurotransmission, an antagonist of these receptors was applied to the bath, which decreased the EMG responses in a reversible manner. Likewise, bath application of the purinergic type 2 receptors, used by AM1-43 to penetrate sensory cells, also decreased the triceps EMG responses. The combined results support a strong influence of facial mechanosensation on FL movement in newborn opossums, and suggest that this influence could be exerted via MC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Epidermal Cells
  • Face / physiology*
  • Female
  • Forelimb / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular*
  • Monodelphis*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Pyridinium Compounds / metabolism
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds / metabolism
  • Receptors, Purinergic P2 / metabolism


  • AM1-43 compound
  • Pyridinium Compounds
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
  • Receptors, Purinergic P2

Grants and funding

This work was supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Discovery Grants #3595 (TC) and #312015 (JFP). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.