Merkel cells (MCs) associated with nerve terminals constitute MC-neurite complexes, which are involved in slowly-adapting type I mechanoreception. Although MCs are known to express voltage-gated Ca2+ channels and hypotonic-induced membrane deformation is known to lead to Ca2+ transients, whether MCs initiate mechanotransduction is currently unknown. To answer to this question, rat MCs were transfected with a reporter vector, which enabled their identification.Their properties were investigated through electrophysiological studies. Voltage-gated K+, Ca2+ and Ca2+-activated K+ (KCa)channels were identified, as previously described. Here, we also report the activation of Ca2+ channels by histamine and their inhibition by acetylcholine. As a major finding, we demonstrated that direct mechanical stimulations induced strong inward Ca2+ currents in MCs. Depolarizations were dependent on the strength and the length of the stimulation. Moreover, touch-evoked currents were inhibited by the stretch channel antagonist gadolinium. These data confirm the mechanotransduction capabilities of MCs. Furthermore, we found that activation of the osmoreceptor TRPV4 in FM1-43-labeled MCs provoked neurosecretory granule exocytosis. Since FM1-43 blocks mechanosensory channels, this suggests that hypo-osmolarity activates MCs in the absence of mechanotransduction. Thus, mechanotransduction and osmoreception are likely distinct pathways.
Boulais, N., Pennec, J. P., Lebonvallet, N., Pereira, U., Rougier, N., Dorange, G., … Misery, L. (2009). Rat Merkel cells are mechanoreceptors and osmoreceptors. PLoS ONE, 4(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0007759