Microscopical investigations on the epicuticle of mammalian keratin fibres

J. Swift, James Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The existence of a thin chemically resistant layer, the epicuticle, close to the surfaces of all undamaged mammalian keratin fibres has been known since 1916. The dentification of such a specific structure within the fibre cuticle has remained elusive. Now, through transmission electron microscope investigations of stained transverse sections of hairs from various animal species, the epicuticle has been tentatively identified as a sharply defined and continuous layer approximately 13 nm thick covering the entire outwardly facing intracellular surface of every cuticle cell. The staining behaviour of the epicuticle leads one to suppose that it is rich in cystine and that thioester-bound lipids might be present within its bulk. With the atomic force microscope it was established that the undamaged outer surface of all mammalian keratin fibres, even including those from the monotremes, were longitudinally striated. The lateral spacing of the striations was always in the range 0.29±0.39 mm. Striations only occurred on the freely exposed outer surfaces of the original undamaged fibres; evidently arising by some, as yet undefined, interaction in the follicle with the cuticle of the inner root sheath. By stripping off fatty acids known to be covalently attached to the fibre's outer surface, the striations were shown to reflect a corresponding irregularity of the epicuticle's surface.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-211
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Microscopy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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