, Volume 84, Issue 4, pp 269-279
Date: 11 Apr 2009

Cornification of the pulp epithelium and formation of pulp cups in downfeathers and regenerating feathers

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Abstract

During most of feather growth (anagen), the dermal papilla stimulates the collar epithelium to give rise to feather keratins accumulating cells that form most of the corneous material of barbs and the rachis. Aside from the induction of differentiated cells of the feather, the distal part of the papilla forms a loose connective tissue that nourishes the growing feather, termed the pulp. In the last stages of feather growth, the pulp undergoes a process of re-absorption and leaves empty cavities indicated as pulp cups surrounded by keratinized cells inside the calamus. The process of cornification of pulp cups in different species of birds has been described here by using electron microscopy and immunocytochemistry for keratins. Pulp cells accumulate bundles of soft (alpha)-keratin, but do not synthesise feather keratins as in the surrounding calamus cells. Cells of the pulp epithelium accumulate large amounts of lipids and form a softer keratinized epithelium surrounding the pulp. This type of keratinization resembles the formation of soft epidermis in apteric and interfollicular regions. The role of the cornified pulp epithelium is to limit water loss and to form a microbe barrier before the mature feather is moulted.