To examine the involvement of cell adhesion molecules in the inductive epithelial-mesenchymal interactions during avian scale development, a study of the spatiotemporal distribution of L-CAM and N-CAM was undertaken. During scutate scale development, L-CAM and N-CAM are expressed together in cells of the transient embryonic layers destined to be lost at hatching. The ongoing linkage of the cells of these layers by both CAMs sets them apart, early in development, as unique cell populations. L-CAM and N-CAM were also expressed simultaneously at the basal surface of the early germinative cells where signal transduction is presumed to occur. In spite of the differences in cell shape, adhesion, density and proliferative state between populations of epidermal placode and interplacode cells, the expression of L-CAM and N-CAM appeared to be uniform and nondiscriminating for these discrete cell lineages. The same pattern of L-CAM and N-CAM expression was observed during morphogenesis of reticulate scales that develop without placode formation. While L-CAM and N-CAM are present during the early stages of scale development and most likely function in cell adhesion, the data do not support a role for these adhesion molecules in the formation of the morphogenetically critical placode and interplacode cell populations.

In both scale types, L-CAM became predominantly epithelial, and N-CAM became predominantly dermal as histogenesis occurred. Initially, N-CAM was concentrated near the basal lamina where it may be involved in the reciprocal epidermal-dermal interactions required for morphogenesis. However, as development of the scales progressed, N-CAM disappeared from the tissues. L-CAM expression continued in the epidermis and was intense on all suprabasal cells undergoing differentiation into either an αstratum or β-stratum. However, L-CAM was more prevalent on the basal cells of α-keratinizing regions than on the basal cells of β-keratinizing regions.