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Dermal Appendage-Dependent Patterning of Zebrafish Atoh1a+ Merkel Cells

TitleDermal Appendage-Dependent Patterning of Zebrafish Atoh1a+ Merkel Cells
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsBrown TL, Horton EC, Craig EW, Goo CEA, Black EC, Hewitt MN, Yee NG, Fan ET, Raible DW, Rasmussen JP

Touch system function requires precise interactions between specialized skin cells and somatosensory axons, as exemplified by the vertebrate mechanosensory Merkel cell-neurite complex. Development and patterning of Merkel cells and associated neurites during skin organogenesis remain poorly understood, partly due to the in utero development of mammalian embryos. Here, we discover Merkel cells in the zebrafish epidermis and identify Atonal homolog 1a (Atoh1a) as a marker of zebrafish Merkel cells. We show that zebrafish Merkel cells derive from basal keratinocytes, express neurosecretory and mechanosensory machinery, extend actin-rich microvilli, and complex with somatosensory axons, all hallmarks of mammalian Merkel cells. Merkel cells populate all major adult skin compartments, with region-specific densities and distribution patterns. In vivo photoconversion reveals that Merkel cells undergo steady loss and replenishment during skin homeostasis. Merkel cells develop concomitant with dermal appendages along the trunk and loss of Ectodysplasin signaling, which prevents dermal appendage formation, reduces Merkel cell density by affecting cell differentiation. By contrast, altering dermal appendage morphology changes the distribution, but not density, of Merkel cells. Overall, our studies provide insights into touch system maturation during skin organogenesis and establish zebrafish as an experimentally accessible in vivo model for the study of Merkel cell biology.

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