Histology and histopathology

Intraepidermal free nerve fiber endings in the hairless skin of the rat as revealed by the zinc iodide-osmium tetroxide technique.

PMID 10809370


The nerve fiber distribution in the epidermis of the hairless rat skin was studied light microscopically by means of zinc iodide-osmium tetroxide staining. Two different morphological types of free nerve fiber endings could be detected: clusters of relatively thick nerve fibers stretched up through the spinous layer up to the granular layer sending off terminal branches. In addition, many solitary thin varicose nerve fibers were seen within the epidermis. The observed discrepancies in nerve fiber diameters appeared to be larger than those reported for human intraepidermal nerve fibers in recent immunohistochemical studies. Moreover, dendritic cells, most probably representing Langerhans cells, could be selectively stained. These cells appeared to be in a close location to thin varicose nerve fibers. Both types of demonstrated free nerve endings have to be functionally connected with different sensoric functions. Possibly, a subpopulation of the thin nerve fibers might possess primarily a nociceptive task, whereas the thick ones have most probably to be regarded as mechanoreceptive. The nerve fibers innervating dendritic cells appear to be identical to the peptidergic ones which may regulate the antigen-presenting capacity of these cells. Due to its selectivity for intraepidermal nerve fibers, the used method might supplement immunohistochemical procedures in a helpful manner.