Ultrastructural visualization of cross-linked protein features in epidermal appendages

Robert H. Rice, Viviana J. Wong, Kent E Pinkerton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Upon vigorous extraction with ionic detergent under reducing conditions, the macroscopic structures of mammalian hair, bird feather and horny teeth of the hagfish became swollen and flexible but were substantially preserved. In each case, removal in this way of solubilizable constituents, such as disulfide-bonded keratins and associated matrix proteins, left a residue of ε-(γ-glutamyl)lysine cross-linked protein. Residual features in hair included cell envelopes in the cortex, cell envelopes and intracellular deposits in the medulla, and nearly the entire cuticle cells. In feather, extraction left largely intact the macroscopic barb structures but caused collapse of the rachis. In both rachis and barbs, considerable material resembling cell envelopes remained. In extracted hagfish teeth the cellular organization was clearly visible microscopically, including cell borders and remnant nuclei. Unlike the cornified envelopes of mature epidermal keratinocytes, which appear as doublets, reflecting their formation immediately beneath each plasma membrane of apposing cells, the borders of cells of hair cortex and hagfish teeth appeared single and continuous from one cell to the next. Thus the observed cross-linked features comprised four types: (i) condensation immediately beneath the plasma membrane (feather, hair medulla and cuticle) similar to cornified envelopes of epidermal keratinocytes; (ii) deposition between cells (hair cortex, horny teeth); (iii) cytoplasmic deposits (hair cuticle and medulla); and (iv) nuclear condensation (hair medulla, horny teeth). The results emphasize the importance of transglutaminases and their substrate proteins for the function of epidermal appendages and may provide a useful diagnostic test for perturbation of their normal structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1985-1992
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Cell Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1994


  • Feather
  • Hagfish teeth
  • Hair
  • Isopeptide
  • Transglutaminase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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