Dissection of Merkel cell formation in hairy and glabrous skin reveals a common requirement for FGFR2-mediated signalling

Exp Dermatol. 2019 Apr;28(4):374-382. doi: 10.1111/exd.13901. Epub 2019 Mar 13.


Merkel cells are mechanosensory cells involved in tactile discrimination. Merkel cells have been primarily studied in the murine back skin, where they are found in specialized structures called touch domes located around primary hair follicles. Yet, little is known about the morphogenesis of Merkel cells in areas of the skin devoid of hair, such as the glabrous paw skin. Here, we describe Merkel cell formation in the glabrous paw skin during embryogenesis. We first found in the glabrous paw skin that Merkel cells were specified at E15.5, 24 hours later, compared to in the back skin. Additionally, by performing lineage-tracing experiments, we found that unlike in the back skin, SOX9(+) cells do not give rise to Merkel cells in the glabrous paw skin. Finally, we compared the transcriptomes of Merkel cells in the back and the glabrous paw skin and showed that they are similar. Genetic and transcriptome studies showed that the formation of Merkel cells in both regions was controlled by similar regulators. Among them was FGFR2, an upstream factor of MAPK signalling that was reported to have a critical function in Merkel cell formation in the back skin. Here, we showed that FGFR2 is also required for Merkel cell development in the glabrous paw skin. Taken together, our results demonstrate that Merkel cells in the murine back skin and glabrous paw skin are similar, and even though their formation is controlled by a common genetic programme, their precursor cells might differ.

Keywords: FGFR2; Merkel cells; glabrous skin; hair follicle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Merkel Cells*
  • Mice
  • Pregnancy
  • Receptor, Fibroblast Growth Factor, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Skin / cytology
  • Skin / embryology*
  • Transcriptome


  • Fgfr2 protein, mouse
  • Receptor, Fibroblast Growth Factor, Type 2