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Molecular Profiling Reveals Synaptic Release Machinery in Merkel Cells

Henry Haeberle, Mika Fujiwara, Jody Chuang, Michael M. Medina, Mayuri V. Panditrao, Susanne Bechstedt, Jonathon Howard, Ellen A. Lumpkin and David Julius
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Vol. 101, No. 40 (Oct. 5, 2004), pp. 14503-14508
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3373411
Page Count: 6
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Molecular Profiling Reveals Synaptic Release Machinery in Merkel Cells
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Abstract

Merkel cell-neurite complexes are somatosensory receptors that initiate the perception of gentle touch. The role of epidermal Merkel cells within these complexes is disputed. To ask whether Merkel cells are genetically programmed to be excitable cells that may participate in touch reception, we purified Merkel cells from touch domes and used DNA microarrays to compare gene expression in Merkel cells and other epidermal cells. We identified 362 Merkel-cell-enriched transcripts, including neuronal transcription factors, presynaptic molecules, and ion-channel subunits. Antibody staining of skin sections showed that Merkel cells are immunoreactive for presynaptic proteins, including piccolo, Rab3C, vesicular glutamate transporter 2, and cholecystokinin 26-33. These data indicate that Merkel cells are poised to release glutamate and neuropeptides. Finally, by using Ca2+ imaging, we discovered that Merkel cells have L- and P/Q-type voltage-gated Ca2+ channels, which have been shown to trigger vesicle release at synapses. These results demonstrate that Merkel cells are excitable cells and suggest that they release neurotransmitters to shape touch sensitivity.

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