Differentiation of embryonic chick feather-forming and scale-forming tissues in transfilter cultures

C. A. Peterson, R. M. Grainger

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11 Scopus citations


The dermal-epidermal tissue interaction in the chick embryo, leading to the formation of feathers and scales, provides a good experimental system to study the transfer between tissues of signals which specify cell type. At certain times in development, the dermis controls whether the epidermis forms feathers or scales, each of which are characterized by the synthesis of specific β-keratins. In our culture system, a dermal effect on epidermal differentiation can still be observed, even when the tissues are separated by a Nuclepore filter, although development is abnormal. Epidermal morphological and histological differentiation in transfilter cultures are distinct and recognizable, more closely resembling feather or scale development, depending on the regional origin of the dermis. Differentiation is more advanced when epidermis is cultured transfilter from scale dermis than from feather dermis, as assessed by morphology and histology, as well as the expression of the tissue-specific gene products, the β-keratins. Two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel analysis of the β-keratins reveals that scale dermis cultured transfilter from either presumptive scale or feather epidermis induces the production of 7 of the 9 scale-specific β-keratins that we have identified. Feather dermis, although less effective in activating the feather gene program when cultured transfilter from either presumptive feather or scale epidermis, is able to turn on the synthesis of 3 to 6 of the 18 feather-specific β-keratins that we have identified. However, scale epidermis in transfilter recombinants with feather dermis also continues to synthesize many of the scale-specific β-keratins. Using transmission and scanning electron microscopy, we detect no cell contact between tissues separated by a 0.2-μm pore diameter Nuclepore filter, while 0.4-μm filters readily permit cell processes to traverse the filter. We find that epidermal differentiation is the same with either pore size filter. Furthermore, we do not detect a basement membrane in transfilter cultures, implying that neither direct cell contact between dermis and epidermis, nor a basement membrane between the tissues is required for the extent of epidermal differentiation that we observe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-25
Number of pages18
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1985

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Bonnie Sheppard and Syd Breese for excellent technical advise and assistance with the transmission electron microscopy. We would also like to thank Jill Norman and William Phillips for critical reading of this manuscript. C.A.P. was supported by NIH Training Grant HD-07192. In addition, this work was supported by a NIH Research Career Development Award (HD 00289) and grants from the American Cancer Society (VC-306), NSF (PCM-82-08266), and the Thomas F. and Kate Miller Jeffress Memorial Trust (J-24) to R.M.G.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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