Human Merkel cell regeneration in skin derived from cultured keratinocyte grafts

C. C. Compton, S. Regauer, G. R. Seiler, D. B. Landry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Human Merkel cell regeneration in epidermis derived from cultured keratinocyte autografts was studied from 6 days to 6 years after transplantation. Cultured keratinocyte sheets derived from skin of the sole, axilla, groin, or scalp were transplanted to full-thickness wounds in 20 pediatric patients treated for massive burns or giant congenital nevi. Normal age- and site-matched skin as well as meshed split-thickness autografts from the same patients served as controls. Merkel cells were identified by immunohistochemistry using antibodies to cytokeratins paragraph 8 and paragraph 18. Cultured keratinocytes in vitro expressed no neuroendocrine markers, but nonspecific, simple-epithelial cytokeratin expression was observed in about 20% of cells. After transplantation, Merkel cells were identified only in cultured grafts derived from sole skin and appeared in the epidermis as early as 21 days postgrafting. Dermal Merkel cells were rarely observed, but their appearance invariably succeeded that of intraepidermal Merkel cells. Regenerated Merkel cells were never innervated, and their emergence was unrelated either spatially or temporally to epidermal reinnervation. In skin bridges of meshed split-thickness grafts, Merkel cells survived after degeneration of associated neurites, but no Merkel cells appeared within re-epithelialized interstices. Among the neuroendocrine markers tested, Merkel cells in cultured grafts, meshed skin grafts or normal pediatric skin expressed only neuron-specific enolase. They failed to stain for calcitonin, chromogranin A, Leu-7, synaptophysin, bombesin, or vasoactive intestinal polypeptide by immunohistochemistry. These findings suggest that: (a) Merkel cells derive from keratinocyte precursors which undergo neuroendocrine differentiation in the epidermis; (b) that keratinocyte stem cells are capable of undergoing Merkel cell differentiation postnatally; (c) that postnatal Merkel cell differentiation may be body-site dependent; and (d) that Merkel cell development and maintenance is independent of neural induction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-241
Number of pages9
JournalLaboratory Investigation
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • cultured autografts
  • meshed split-thickness grafts
  • neuroendocrine differentiation
  • site-specificity
  • skin regeneration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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