Fine structural analysis of the synaptic junction of Merkel cell-axon-complexes

J Invest Dermatol. 1980 Aug;75(2):159-65. doi: 10.1111/1523-1747.ep12522555.


The ultrastructure of synaptic contact areas in Merkel cell-axon-complexes from sinus hair follicles and touch domes of various mammals (nude mice, rats, cats, rabbits, opossums and monkeys) was investigated by electron microscopy of ultrathin sections from perfusion fixed tissue. Synapses between Merkel cells and axons were a common feature in all analyzed species. Special staining with digallic acid and goniometric tilting facilitated the resolution of the membranous and paramembranous synaptic elements. The synaptic contact revealed the typical characteristics of a chemical synapse, except for presynaptic clear vesicles: a postsynaptic membrane thickening and dense projections at the presynaptic membrane (i.e., the Merkel cell membrane). The cleft material was resolved as a fuzzy coating of the outer leaflets of the synaptic membranes with occasional bridges across the synaptic cleft. The presence of a synapse in the Merkel cell-axon-complexes emphasizes the receptor function of the Merkel cell besides other possible functions of this cell.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / ultrastructure*
  • Female
  • Haplorhini
  • Male
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Melanocytes / ultrastructure*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Opossums
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Skin / ultrastructure*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*
  • Synaptic Membranes / ultrastructure
  • Touch