Early differentiation of the afferent nervous system in glabrous snout skin of the opossum (Monodelphis domesticus)

Somatosens Res. 1985;3(2):169-84. doi: 10.3109/07367228509144582.


Early differentiation of afferent fibers innervating the snout skin of Monodelphis domesticus was studied by electron microscopy and by light-microscopic silver staining techniques. This study was undertaken to investigate the relationship between dermal and epidermal innervation in the neonate opossum while correlating these findings with behavioral responses. The advantage of using this species is that the neonate is born in a very immature stage and has a rostrocaudal development of the peripheral nervous system. Glabrous snout skin from young opossums was studied at birth (0 day) and postnatal days 1, 3, and 5. Neurite bundles were seen within the dermis, with axons and growth cones approaching the epidermis. Some axons penetrated the dermal-epidermal junction in newborn pups. Merkel cells were consistently numerous during the time spanned by this study. Mature Merkel cells had granules polarized toward an associated neurite and were often located in the base of the rete pegs. Immature Merkel cells were characterized by a lack of polarization of granules and absence of an apposed neurite, suggesting that these cells can differentiate without an associated neurite. Contiguous Merkel cells had junctional complexes in 0- and 1-day animals. Schwann cells, identified by their contact with neurite bundles, were present in large numbers, especially in the superficial dermis. Melanocytes could be identified in the epidermis in 5-day pups only. Developing rete pegs could be recognized in 0-day animals and became prominent in 5-day pups. These observations suggest that afferent fibers are present at a very early age and that some of these fibers are anatomically mature. These findings support the concept that the ability of the neonate to locate a teat and suckle requires only the presence of mature epidermal innervation, while dermal receptors appear later during postpartum development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / growth & development
  • Afferent Pathways / ultrastructure
  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / anatomy & histology
  • Animals, Newborn / growth & development*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Epidermal Cells*
  • Epidermis / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neurons, Afferent / cytology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / ultrastructure
  • Opossums
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / growth & development*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / ultrastructure
  • Skin / innervation