Horse hooves and bird feathers: Two model systems for studying the structure and development of highly adapted integumentary accessory organs—the role of the dermo-epidermal interface for the micro-architecture of complex epidermal structures



Accessory organs of the integument are locally modified parts of the potentially feather-bearing skin in birds (e.g., the rhamphotheca, claws, or scales), and of the potentially hairy skin in mammals (e.g., the rhinarium, nails, claws, or hooves). These special parts of the integument are characterised by a modified structure of their epidermal, dermal and subcutaneous layers. The developmental processes of these various integumentary structures in birds and mammals show both similarities and differences. For example, the development of the specialised epidermal structures of both feathers and the hoof capsule is influenced by the local three-dimensional configuration of the dermis. However, in feathers, in contrast to hooves, the arrangement of the corneous cells is only partially a direct result of the particular arrangement and shape of the dermal surface of the papillary body. Whereas the diameter of the feather papilla, as well as the number, length, and width of dermal ridges on the surface of the feather papilla influence the three-dimensional architecture of the feather rami, there is no apparent direct correlation between the dermo-epidermal interface and the development of the highly ordered architecture of the radii and hamuli in the feather vane. In order to elucidate this morphogenic problem and the problem of locally different processes of keratinisation and cornification, the structure and development of feathers in birds are compared to those of the hoof capsule in horses. The equine hoof is the most complex mammalian integumentary structure, which is determined directly by the dermal surface of the papillary body. Perspectives for further research on the development of modified integumentary structures, such as the role of the dermal microangioarchitecture and the selective adhesion and various differentiation pathways of epidermal cells, are discussed. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 298B:140–151, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.