The microanatomy of the epidermis of the domestic fowl is described and related to the distribution of various histochemical constituents involved in keratinization.
The avian horny layer over the back is composed of a loose network of structurally solid horny cells. This is in contrast to most mammalian epidermal horny cells in which structural keratin is found only in the peripheral cytoplasm, and the interior of the keratinocyte contains soluble products of cytolysis with possibly some free keratin filaments dispersed in the fluid material.
The avian tarsal epidermal horny scales show similarities to both the scales of lizards and snakes and to mammalian tail scales which appear to be homologous structures.
It is suggested that a thin layer of cells containing no detectable disulphide bonds, found in the tarsal scale region of the young chick, is probably mechanically weak and may function as a fission plane for sloughing of the horny layer. A specialized epidermis and thickened horny layer is developed in the fowl on the plantar underside of the toes, but this is quite different in structure from the mammalian plantar epidermis.
The overlapping of zones rich in ribonucleic acid (RNA) and bound cysteine (SH) in the growing feather suggests that protein synthesis and the preparatory stages to keratin disulphide bonding normally occur concurrently in feather formation. This is in contrast to the growing hair which has a region rich in RNA followed immediately before it becomes keratinized by a discrete keratogenous zone weak in RNA but rich in bound cysteine.