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J Comp Neurol. 2002 Apr 15;445(4):347-59.

Distribution and terminal arborizations of cutaneous mechanoreceptors in the glabrous finger pads of the monkey.

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Département de Physiologie, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada H3C 3J7.


Recent electrophysiological studies demonstrated that neurons in the somatosensory cortex of monkeys respond to tangential forces applied to glabrous skin. To unravel the peripheral basis for this cortical response, we determined the distribution of presumptive low-threshold mechanoreceptors innervating the distal finger pads of monkeys. Endings were reconstructed in immunolabeled serial sections imaged by epifluorescence and confocal microscopy. Although classically implicated as cutaneous stretch receptors, no Ruffini corpuscles were found in the glabrous skin. Ruffini-like endings were only detected at the base of the finger nails. Pacinian corpuscles were sparsely distributed in the deep dermis. Meissner corpuscles (MCs) in dermal papillary ridges had a comparably high density in the thumb, index, and fifth fingers. Each MC was innervated by several large-caliber axons. Within the limits of our reconstructions, some of these axons terminated in only one MC, whereas others innervated several MCs. Merkel endings covered about 80% of the base of the intermediate epidermal ridges that form the pattern of fingerprints. In some cases, the distal tip of a Merkel-related axon gave rise to a several terminal branches that supplied endings to tightly circumscribed (30-70 microm) clusters of Merkel cells. In other cases, the nodes of axons gave rise to en passant branches that formed extended chains of endings among Merkel cells spread over territories up to 300 microm long. Based on their relatively diffuse distributions, the axons that innervate multiple MCs or the axons with en passant Merkel terminations seem most suited to transduce tangential forces.

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