Research Article| Volume 65, ISSUE 3, P162-169, March 2012

The dimensions and characteristics of the subepidermal nerve plexus in human skin – Terminal Schwann cells constitute a substantial cell population within the superficial dermis

Published:February 03, 2012DOI:



      The skin constitutes the largest sensorial organ. Its nervous system consists of different types of afferent nerve fibers which spread out immediately beneath the skin surface to sense temperature, touch and pain.


      Our aim was to investigate the dimension and topographic relationship of the different nerve fibers of the subepidermal nerve plexus in human hairy skin and to analyze numbers and marker expression of terminal Schwann cells.


      Nerve fibers and Schwann cells were investigated on dermal sheet preparations and thick sections of skin from various body regions of 10 individuals.


      The dimension of subepidermal nerve fibers varied between different body sites with highest values in chest skin (100 ± 18 mm/mm2) and lowest in posterior forearm skin (53 ± 10 mm/mm2). The majority of fibers (85.79%) were unmyelinated, thus representing C-fibers, of which 7.84% were peptidergic. Neurofilament-positive fibers (A-fibers) accounted for 14.21% and fibers positive for both neurofilament and myelin (Aβ-fibers) for only 0.18%. The number of Schwann cells varied in accordance with nerve fiber length from 453 ± 108 on chest skin to 184 ± 58/mm2 in skin of the posterior forearm. Terminal Schwann cells showed a marker profile comparable to Schwann cells in peripheral nerves with the notable exception of expression of NGFr, NCAM, L1CAM and CD146 on myelinating Schwann cells in the dermis but not in peripheral nerves.


      Our data show that terminal Schwann cells constitute a substantial cell population within the papillary dermis and that both nerve fiber length and Schwann cell numbers vary considerably between different body sites.


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