Cell organization of barb ridges in regenerating feathers of the quail: implications of the elongation of barb ridges for the evolution and diversification of feathers


L. Alibardi, Dipartimento di Biologia evoluzionistica sperimentale, University of Bologna, via Selmi 3, 40126, Bologna, Italy. E-mail: alibardi@cib.unibo.it


This ultrastructural study on the regenerating feathers of quail describes the cellular organization of the barb ridges responsible for the ramification of adult feathers. Bilateral symmetry of the barb ridges determines the organization of feather cells into feather branching. The length of the barb ridges, derived from the number of cells associated to form the barbule plates, determines the length of the barbule branching. Long chains of barb cells form long barbs that branch from the rachis with an increase of feather size. Supportive cells function as spacers between the barbule cells. New cells derive from stem cells localized in the collar region of the feather follicle, as indicated from the re-organization of collar cells into barb ridges (a morphogenetic process inherited from that of embryonic feathers), production of an embryonic type of keratin (feather keratin), permanence of periderm granules (typical embryonic organelles) in barb vane ridge cells. Variations in the process of barb ridge morphogenesis allow the fusion of ridges into a rachis. The differentiation of hooklets contributes to the origin of planar feathers. Separation between rachis and merging barb ridges is by supportive cells, derived from the marginal plates of the barb ridges. Speculations on the evolution and diversification of feathers are presented.