Anatomical Science International

, Volume 93, Issue 4, pp 548–558 | Cite as

Transmission electron microscopic and immunohistochemical observations of resting follicles of feathers in chicken show massive cell degeneration

  • Lorenzo AlibardiEmail author
Original Article


The molting cycle of feathers includes an anagen (growth) stage, a likely catagen stage where the feather follicles degenerate, and a resting stage where fully grown feathers remain in their follicles and are functional before molting. However, the cytological changes involved in the resting and molting stages are poorly known, so the results of an ultrastructural analysis of these processes in adult chick feathers are presented here. The study showed that the dermal papilla shrinks, and numerous cells present increased heterochromatin and free collagen fibrils in the extracellular matrix. Degeneration of the germinal epithelium of the follicle—the papillary collar—occurs with an initial substantial contraction of cells followed by an increase in heterochromatin, vesicle and lipid accumulation, and membrane and organelle degeneration. Desmosomes are still present between degenerating epithelial cells, but ribosomes and tonofilaments disappear. This suggests that cell necrosis initially proceeds as a major contraction resembling apoptosis—a process termed necroptosis, which was previously also shown to occur during the formation of barbs and barbules in mature down and pennaceous feathers. This study suggests that, aside from apoptosis, the collar epithelium degenerates due to external factors, in particular the retraction of blood vessels supplying the dermal papilla. In contrast, revascularization of the dermal papilla triggers a new phase of feather growth (anagen).


Chick Feather Follicle Dermal papilla Regression Ultrastructure 



This research, in particular the entire electron microscopy study, was self-supported (Comparative Histolab).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

I declare no conflict of interest in relation to the present manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Japanese Association of Anatomists 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Comparative Histolab Padova, Dipartimento di BiologiaUniversità di BolognaBolognaItaly

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