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J Neurocytol. 2004 May;33(3):359-76.

Merkel cells, corpuscular nerve endings and free nerve endings in the mouse palatine mucosa express three subtypes of vesicular glutamate transporters.

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  • 1Northwestern University Institute for Neuroscience, Searle Building 5-474, 320 E. Superior Street, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.


The hard palate of rodents is a mucous membrane covered by a keratinized epithelium that typically contains Merkel cell (MC)-neurite complexes. MCs have engendered considerable research activity because of their involvement in mechanoreception and possibly also Merkel cell carcinomas. MCs derive from the neural crest, differentiate under control of peripheral nerve factors, are enriched in large dense core vesicles, and secrete neuropeptides and other neuroactive molecules. Upon stimulation, MC-neurite complexes produce slowly adapting type I responses. Here we emphasize that the murine hard palate is a highly differentiated sensory region, as shown by intravital staining with a styryl dye and immunocytochemistry with antibodies to vesicular glutamate transporters (VGLUTs). The entire palate contained densities of sensory endings and MC-neurite complexes, that nearly paralleled in abundance the vibrissal pads. MCs were differentially distributed in the murine palate; clusters of MCs were most abundant in the antemolar and intermolar rugae, while individual MCs were particularly enriched in the rugae at the mid-portion of the palate and in the postrugal field. VGLUT1, VGLUT2 and VGLUT3 were expressed in MCs throughout, although immunostained MCs were most frequently encountered in intermolar than antemolar rugae. The same transporters were also present in corpuscular endings at the summit of the rugae and in intraepithelial free nerve endings throughout the palate. VGLUTs presumably load glutamate into large dense core vesicles in MCs and into small clear vesicles in corpuscular and free nerve endings. The data suggest that glutamate release, or co-release, is likely to represent an important functional aspect of palatine Merkel cells and neighboring corpuscular and free nerve endings.

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