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Merkel Cells

August 11, 2009

Merkel cells in the fingertips and lips are responsible for our feeling of fine touch.


The genetics of touch. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Scientists have long believed that tiny cells called Merkel cells, located on the fingertips and lips, are responsible for our sense of fine touch.

ELLEN LUMPKIN (Baylor College of Medicine):
It’s the sense of fine touch that allows you to discriminate shapes and textures. 1 // we use it for virtually all aspects of our daily life . A musician’s ability to find the right key on their instruments, a seamstress’ ability to feel the texture of the material.

That’s neuroscientist Ellen Lumpkin of Baylor College of Medicine. She and her team recently discovered the gene responsible for Merkel cells, called Atoh1.

And if you knock the gene out, Merkel cells never develop. The study really highlights the importance of the gene Atoh1 in our ability to sense our body’s position in space.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.