Merkel-like cell distribution in the epithelium of the human vagina. An immunohistochemical and TEM study

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Simona Polakovičová *
Mária Csӧbӧnyeiová
Barbora Filova
Miroslav Borovský
Ladislav Maršík
Alena Kvasilová
Štefan Polák
(*) Corresponding Author:
Simona Polakovičová |


Human Merkel cells (MCs) were first described by Friedrich S. Merkel in 1875 and named “Tastzellen” (touch cells). Merkel cells are primarily localized in the basal layer of the epidermis and concentrated in touch-sensitive areas. In our previous work, we reported on the distribution of MCs in the human esophagus, so therefore we chose other parts of the human body to study them. We selected the human vagina, because it has a similar epithelium as the esophagus and plays very important roles in reproduction and sexual pleasure. Due to the fact that there are very few research studies focusing on the innervation of this region, we decided to investigate the occurrence of MCs in the anterior wall of the vagina. The aim of our research was to identify MCs in the stratified squamous non-keratinized epithelium of the human vagina in 20 patients. For the identification of Merkel cells by light microscopy, we used antibodies against simple-epithelial cytokeratins (especially anti-cytokeratin 20). We also tried to identify them using transmission electron microscopy. Our investigation confirmed that 10 (50 %) of 20 patients had increased number of predominantly intraepithelial CK20 positive “Merkel-like” cells (MLCs) in the human vaginal epithelium. Subepithelial CK20 positive MLCs were observed in only one patient (5%). We tried to identify them also using transmission electron microscopy. Our investigation detected some unique cells that may be MCs. The purpose of vaginal innervation is still unclear. There are no data available concerning the distribution of MCs in the human vagina, so it would be interesting to study the role of MCs in the vaginal epithelium, in the context of innervation and epithelial biology.

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