Epidermal progenitors give rise to Merkel cells during embryonic development and adult homeostasis

Alexandra Van Keymeulen, Guilhem Mascre, Khalil Kass Youseff, Itamar Harel, Cindy Michaux, Natalie De Geest, Caroline Szpalski, Younes Achouri, Wilhelm Bloch, Bassem A. Hassan, Cédric Blanpain*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

203 Scopus citations


Merkel cells (MCs) are located in the touch-sensitive area of the epidermis and mediate mechanotransduction in the skin. Whether MCs originate from embryonic epidermal or neural crest progenitors has been a matter of intense controversy since their discovery >130 yr ago. In addition, how MCs are maintained during adulthood is currently unknown. In this study, using lineage-tracing experiments, we show that MCs arise through the differentiation of epidermal progenitors during embryonic development. In adults, MCs undergo slow turnover and are replaced by cells originating from epidermal stem cells, not through the proliferation of differentiated MCs. Conditional deletion of the Atoh1/ Math1 transcription factor in epidermal progenitors results in the absence of MCs in all body locations, including the whisker region. Our study demonstrates that MCs arise from the epidermis by an Atoh1-dependent mechanism and opens new avenues for study of MC functions in sensory perception, neuroendocrine signaling, and MC carcinoma.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)91-100
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cell Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 5 Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes


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