Merkel cells and Meissner's corpuscles in human digital skin display Piezo2 immunoreactivity

J Anat. 2017 Dec;231(6):978-989. doi: 10.1111/joa.12688. Epub 2017 Sep 14.


The transformation of mechanical energy into electrical signals is the first step in mechanotransduction in the peripheral sensory nervous system and relies on the presence of mechanically gated ion channels within specialized sensory organs called mechanoreceptors. Piezo2 is a vertebrate stretch-gated ion channel necessary for mechanosensitive channels in mammalian cells. Functionally, it is related to light touch, which has been detected in murine cutaneous Merkel cell-neurite complexes, Meissner-like corpuscles and lanceolate nerve endings. To the best of our knowledge, the occurrence of Piezo2 in human cutaneous mechanoreceptors has never been investigated. Here, we used simple and double immunohistochemistry to investigate the occurrence of Piezo2 in human digital glabrous skin. Piezo2 immunoreactivity was detected in approximately 80% of morphologically and immunohistochemically characterized (cytokeratin 20+ , chromogranin A+ and synaptophisin+ ) Merkel cells. Most of them were in close contact with Piezo2- nerve fibre profiles. Moreover, the axon, but not the lamellar cells, of Meissner's corpuscles was also Piezo2+ , but other mechanoreceptors, i.e. Pacinian or Ruffini's corpuscles, were devoid of immunoreactivity. Piezo2 was also observed in non-nervous tissue, especially the basal keratinocytes, endothelial cells and sweat glands. The present results demonstrate the occurrence of Piezo2 in cutaneous sensory nerve formations that functionally work as slowly adapting (Merkel cells) and rapidly adapting (Meissner's corpuscles) low-threshold mechanoreceptors and are related to fine and discriminative touch but not to vibration or hard touch. These data offer additional insight into the molecular basis of mechanosensing in humans.

Keywords: Meissner's corpuscles; Merkel cells; Piezo2 ion channel; cutaneous mechanoreceptors; mechanotransduction.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Fingers / innervation
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / biosynthesis*
  • Male
  • Mechanoreceptors / metabolism*
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology
  • Merkel Cells / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Skin / innervation
  • Young Adult


  • Ion Channels
  • PIEZO2 protein, human