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J. Anat. (2001) 199, pp.

577–584, with 5 figures Printed in the United Kingdom 577

The relationship of the number of Meissner’s corpuscles to


dermatoglyphic characters and finger size

Y V O N N E K . D I L L O N, J U L I E H A Y N E S A N D M A C I E J H E N N E B E R G

Department of Anatomical Sciences, University of Adelaide, Australia

(Accepted 26 June 2001)


This study investigated the relationships between the density of Meissner’s corpuscles and the
dermatoglyphic characteristics of human fingers. Dermatoglyphic prints and tissue samples were collected
from the index (II) and ring (IV) fingers of 28 cadavers from the Medical School, University of Adelaide.
Pattern types, pattern intensity, total ridge count and ridge breadth, were determined for each sample and
the density of Meissner’s corpuscles established by recording the mean number of Meissner’s corpuscles
underlying a 10 mm long line on the skin surface. No relationship was found between the density of
Meissner’s corpuscles and pattern type, pattern intensity or total ridge count. Negative correlations were
found for the density of Meissner’s corpuscles with both ridge width and size of fingers. Males were found
to have significantly larger fingers, larger ridge breadth, and a lower density of Meissner’s corpuscles per
10 mm compared with females. However, there was no difference between the total number of Meissner’s
corpuscles per finger in males and females. No significant differences were found in either the density of
Meissner’s corpuscles between antimeres or between the index and ring fingers. These results suggest that for
both the left and right hand in males and females, there is a similar number of Meissner’s corpuscles for
both the index and ring fingers.

Key words : Mechanoreceptors ; fingerprints ; handedness ; histology ; cadavers.

Fe! re! (1895, 1896) found tactile acuity was better



when the points of a 2-point discrimination test were
Gripping and tactile sensitivity are 2 major functions perpendicular, not parallel, to the epidermal ridges of
believed to be associated with the epidermal ridges on the fingertips. Loesch & Martin (1984) showed that
the palmar surface of the fingers (Cummins & Midlo, various dermatoglyphic patterns present on the ring
1943). However, most studies in dermatoglyphics finger (IV digit) differed in their sensitivity to a
have focused on dermatoglyphic variables within and moving stimulus. The best tactile sensitivity was
between various populations across the world (White, recorded for a loop pattern.
1979 ; Crawford & Duggirala, 1992 ; Sirajuddin et al. Meissner’s corpuscles, Merkel cells, Pacinian cor-
1994 ; Reddy & Chopra, 1999) or between sexes puscles, and Ruffini’s corpuscles are all forms of
(Esteban & Moral, 1993 ; Krishnan & Reddy, 1994 ; mechanoreceptors that contribute to sensations of
Acree, 1999). Links between dermatoglyphics and touch (Gardner et al. 2000). The first 2 mechano-
disease or congenital abnormalities have also been receptors have small receptive fields and are located
explored (Minkov, 1982 ; Singh et al. 1983 ; Rajangam superficially to Pacinian and Ruffini’s corpuscles in
et al. 1995 ; Fananas et al. 1996 ; Gutierrez et al. 1998 ; the skin. They are found at the dermal–epidermal
Than et al. 1998 ; Brill and Stier, 1999). Despite this junction where they have a major role in providing
extensive research in dermatoglyphics, the relation- information about the shape, size and texture of
ships between dermatoglyphic variables and tactile objects and 2-point discrimination (Gardner et al.
sensitivity have been neglected except for studies by 2000). Meissner’s corpuscles were selected as the focus
Fe! re! (1895, 1896) and Loesch & Martin (1984). of this study because they are primarily located in

Correspondence to Dr Julie Haynes, Department of Anatomical Sciences, Adelaide University, South Australia, 5005, Australia. Fax :
j618 08 8303 4398 ; e-mail : julie.haynes!adelaide.edu.au
578 Y. K. Dillon and others

ridged skin whereas Merkel cells are also concentrated corpuscles between index and ring fingers, handed-
in other areas, e.g. lips, tongue (Lacour et al. 1991). ness, and sex. The index finger was used in the study
The concentration of Meissner’s corpuscles in the as it is believed to be the most sensitive. The ring
fingertips and their connections to the epidermal layer finger was selected because it is the only digit for
prompted speculation that the locations of Meissner’s which data have been published with regard to
corpuscles may be influenced by the complexities of dermatoglyphic patterns and tactile sensitivity
grooves and ridges at the dermal-epidermal interface. (Loesch & Martin, 1984).
Additionally, Meissner’s corpuscles and not Merkel’s
cells were investigated because the former can be   
easily and consistently detected in tissue samples
collected up to 60 h post-mortem whereas the immuno- Subjects
staining or electron microscopic techniques needed The fingerprints and tissue specimens used in this
for the positive identification of Merkel cells require study were collected from 28 cadavers bequeathed to
more stringent fixation. the Department of Anatomical Sciences, Medical
Meissner’s corpuscles are encapsulated, ovoid struc- School, University of Adelaide. All cadavers were
tures ranging from 30 to 75 µm in width (Caruso et al. over the age of 60 y. The bodies were donated to the
1994) and " 150 µm in length (Iggo & Andres, 1982). University of Adelaide through the body donor
Each consists of several nerve fibres that mingle with program which operates under the strict guidelines of
modified Schwann cells to give the characteristic the Transplantation and Anatomy Act, South
stacked appearance of a Meissner’s corpuscle (Cauna Australian Government, 1983 and the research was
& Ross, 1960). Collagen fibrils extend from the conducted in accordance with the provisions specified
capsule to hemidesmosomes on the basal keratino- in the Act. Fingerprinting and collection of the
cytes of the epidermis and relay pressure on the samples were carried out as soon as the bodies were
epidermis to Meissner’s corpuscles (Iggo & Andres, received before they were embalmed. In most cases,
1982). samples were collected within 36 h after death. Data
Meissner’s corpuscles are almost exclusively found were collected from the index and ring fingers of both
in the ridged skin of the palms and soles with the hands from each cadaver where possible.
highest concentrations in the fingertips (Caruso et al.
1994) which also have the best tactile acuity, implying
a relationship between Meissner’s corpuscles and Fingerprinting
touch sensitivity. Further evidence supporting this Standard ink fingerprinting methods were used for
relationship is the parallelism that has been found obtaining fingerprints from the index and ring finger
between the decrease in tactile sensitivity and the of both hands from each cadaver and then the pattern
reduction of the number of Meissner’s corpuscles with intensity, ridge count and ridge breadth were de-
age (Schimrigk & Ruttinger, 1980 ; Thornbury & termined for each digit (Penrose, 1968). Pattern
Mistretta, 1981). intensity was measured by the number of triradii
The tactile sensitivity of the digits varies. The index present. Hence arches had a pattern intensity of 0,
finger is perceived to be the most sensitive digit and loops and tented arches 1, and whorls, double loops
has the best 2-point discriminative capacity (Martin & and central pocket loops 2.
Jessell, 1991) and the largest somatosensory rep- Ridge breadth was measured by counting the
resentation in the cerebral cortex (Gardner & Kandel, number of ridges that intersected a 10 mm long line
2000). Furthermore, Weinstein (1968) found the right running perpendicular to the direction of the ridges.
index and left thumb had better 2-point discrimination The actual ridge breadth was an inverse of this
than the same contralateral digits. Superior sensitivity number multiplied by 10.
has also been shown in the non-dominant hand of
adults (Ghent, 1961). Although these functional
Histological specimens
comparisons have been made, no study has compared
the microscopic structure of the digits, in particular, A rectangular sample of skin, " 2–3 mm wide, 20 mm
the density of Meissner’s corpuscles with dermato- long and 5 mm deep was cut from each finger. The
glyphic patterns. Hence the aims of this study were to tissue sample passed through the centre of the
investigate the relationships between the density of dermatoglyphic pattern. The specimens were fixed in
Meissner’s corpuscles and dermatoglyphic variables, 10 % buffered formalin and embedded in paraffin
finger size and differences in the density of Meissner’s wax. Ten longitudinal sections (10 µm in thickness
Meissner’s corpuscles, dermatoglyphics and finger size 579

and at least 100 µm apart) were cut from each were significant differences between pattern intensity
specimen, perpendicular to the surface of the skin, and and the density of Meissner’s corpuscles. Significance
stained with van Gieson’s technique (Drury & was taken for all analyses at P 0n05.
Wallington, 1980).
Meissner’s corpuscles were counted and recorded

for each section and the length of the sections (surface
of skin) measured so that a relative Meissner’s The age of the individuals ranged from 63 to 92 y.
corpuscle count per 10 mm could be determined and There was no significant correlation between the age
comparisons made between sections. of the individuals and the density of the Meissner’s
The density of Meissner’s corpuscles has been corpuscles (P  0n05).
shown to decrease with age until about 60 when Table 1 shows the density of Meissner’s corpuscles
further reduction is minimal (Schimrigk & Ruttinger, for both index and ring fingers for males and females.
1980). In order to ensure that different densities of A 2-sample t test assuming unequal variances for
Meissner’s corpuscles between individuals were re- index and ring fingers showed no significant difference
lated to dermatoglyphic and anthropometric variables between fingers in either sex.
only, the homogeneity of the sample was investigated Table 2 shows the density of Meissner’s corpuscles
by examining the relationship between the density of for the dominant and non-dominant hand. The
Meissner’s corpuscles and age. dominant hand had a lower average density of
Meissner’s corpuscle than the non-dominant hand but
a 2-sample t test assuming unequal variances showed
Measuring finger size and handedness
that the results were not significant.
The width of the finger was determined by measuring Table 3 shows the density of Meissner’s corpuscles
the width of the distal interphalangeal joint for the various dermatoglyphic pattern intensities.
(Malinowski & Bozilow, 1997). The length of the Analysis of variance found no significant difference
finger pad was taken by measuring the distance between the densities of Meissner’s corpuscles and the
between the very tip of the finger and the flexion pattern intensities in either sex.
crease at the distal interphalangeal joint (Murai et al. There was no significant correlation either in males
1997). The size of the finger pad (finger size) was then or in females between total ridge count and the
determined by averaging the width and length. This density of Meissner’s corpuscles (P  0n05). In males
method provided a value for the size of the finger so (n l 64), the value of Pearson’s r showed a significant
that comparisons between fingers could be made. It
was based on a technique used previously to measure
Table 1. The number of Meissner’s corpuscles per 10 mm in
cranial size (Henneberg, 1988). In comparing male
relation to the index and ring fingers
and female finger size, the length and the rectangular
area (lengthiwidth) were also used. Index finger Ring finger
Handedness was determined by measuring the Meissner’s
corpuscles n x .. n x ..
biepicondylar width from the left and right arms.
Based on the analysis of previously unpublished data Males 36 2n42 1n09 35 2n51 1n27
collected by Deborah Constant, Department of Females 18 3n05 1n36 18 3n10 1n35
Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Cape Town, Total 54 2n63 1n21 53 2n71 1n31
the larger width corresponds to the dominant hand
n, Sample size ; x, mean ; .., standard deviation.
(Dillon, 2000).

Table 2. Density of Meissner’s corpuscles for the dominant


Statistics
and non-dominant hand of females and males
Pearson’s moment-product correlation was used to
Dominant hand Non-dominant hand
determine whether there was a relationship between Meissner’s
the density of Meissner’s corpuscles and age, relative corpuscles n x .. n x ..
finger size, ridge breadth and ridge count. Student’s t
tests were employed to test if there were significant Males 14 2n56 1n20 14 2n91 1n44
Females 12 3n04 1n51 12 3n33 1n34
differences between fingers, handedness and sex in Total 26 2n78 1n35 26 3n10 1n38
relation to the density of Meissner’s corpuscles.
Analysis of variance was used to determine if there n, Sample size ; x, mean ; .., standard deviation.
580 Y. K. Dillon and others

Table 3. Number of Meissner’s corpuscles per 10 mm for dermatoglyphic pattern intensities 0, 1, and 2

Arches, Loops, tented arches, Whorls, double loops, etc.,


intensity 0 intensity 1 intensity 2

Meissner’s corpuscles n x .. n x .. n x ..

Males 3 1n50 0n13 26 2n57 1n26 41 2n43 1n13


Females Not present 20 2n77 0n95 13 3n38 1n43
Total 3 1n50 0n13 46 2n66 1n13 54 2n66 1n26

n, Sample size ; x, mean ; .., standard deviation.

Fig. 1. Density of Meissner’s corpuscles\10 mm plotted against ridge breadth in males (n l 64).

Fig. 2. The scatter plot shows the density of Meissner’s corpuscles\10 mm plotted against ridge breadth in females (n l 30).

negative correlation between the ridge breadth and A positive correlation between finger size and ridge
the density of Meissner’s corpuscles (P 0n05) breadth was found in both males and females,
(Fig. 1). As ridge breadth increases, the density of indicating that a larger finger has wider ridges (Fig. 3).
Meissner’s corpuscles decreases. In females (n l 30) Females had significantly smaller fingers than males
(Fig. 2) a negative correlation was found, but it was (tm l 11n51, P 0n01) and significantly greater density
not significant, possibly due to a small sample size. of Meissner’s corpuscles (tm l 2n34, P 0n05)
Meissner’s corpuscles, dermatoglyphics and finger size 581

Fig. 3. Finger size plotted against ridge breadth for males (diamonds) and females (squares).

Table 4. Finger size and Meissner’s corpuscles per 10 mm for as finger size increases, the density of Meissner’s
males and females corpuscles decreases. In females a similar negative
correlation exists (Fig. 5) but it is not significant.
Males Females
Further comparisons were made of the density of
n x .. n x .. Meissner’s corpuscles per 10 mm between males and
females after the influence of the finger size had been
Finger size 71 21n89 1n41 32 18n80 1n19
Meissner’s 71 2n46 1n17 36 3n08 1n33
eliminated by multiplying the density of Meissner’s
corpuscles corpuscles by the finger size (Table 5). Three tests
were conducted, using 3 different methods of
n, Sample size ; x, mean ; .., standard deviation. measuring finger size. These were, the length of the
finger, the module method (the average of width and
(Table 4). There is a significant negative correlation length), and the estimated area of the finger
(P 0n05) between the size of the finger in males and (widthilength). Two-sample t tests on these data
the density of Meissner’s corpuscles (Fig. 4). That is, showed that there were no differences in the number

Fig. 4. The inverse significant correlation in males between the size of the finger and the number of Meissner’s corpuscles\10 mm.
582 Y. K. Dillon and others

Fig. 5. Scatter plot showing the density of Meissner’s corpuscles\10 mm plotted against the finger size in females.

Table 5. The total number of Meissner’s corpuscles per finger numbers of Meissner’s corpuscles and age in this
calculated in various ways sample supports these earlier findings. Due to the
advanced age of the cadavers, the mean value for the
Males Females
Finger size density of Meissner’s corpuscles per 10 mm would, of
expressed as : n x .. n x .. course, be lower than in the general population.
In the current study, the result of a similar density
Length 71 66n07 29n89 32 70n53 31n92
Module method 71 53n42 24n47 32 54n88 23n58
of Meissner’s corpuscles in the index and ring fingers
Area 71 1079n26 490n67 32 940n34 384n87 does not correlate with the findings that the index
finger has superior 2-point discrimination over the
n, Sample size ; x, mean ; .., standard deviation. ring finger (Weinstein, 1968). Perhaps the sample size
was too small or other mechanoreceptors, as suggested
of Meissner’s corpuscles between males and females by Bruce & Sinclair (1980), contribute to 2-point
for all three tests (length of finger : tm l 0n80, P  0n05 ; discrimination. It is also possible that cortical pro-
module method : tm l 0n29, P  0n05 ; area of finger : cessing of sensory input is better for the index finger.
tm l 1n37, P  0n05). The similarity of the density of the Meissner’s
corpuscles in the index and ring fingers allowed data
for the other investigations to be pooled.

Although the relationship between the density of
Collection of some data was limited due to some Meissner’s corpuscles and handedness was not
individuals having very smooth skin on their fingertips significant, the higher density of Meissner’s corpuscles
which made finger printing impossible. One cadaver found in the non-dominant hand in both sexes,
had no Meissner’s corpuscles present. This lack of supports the finding by Ghent (1961) that the non-
Meissner’s corpuscles is similar to that from the study dominant hand in adults is more sensitive than the
by Schimrigk & Ruttinger (1980) who came across 2 dominant hand. Higher tactile sensitivity in the non-
subjects out of 30 who had no trace of Meissner’s dominant hand has also been found to be unrelated to
corpuscles. No explanation was given for these skin thickness and callus formation (Weinstein &
absences. Sersen, 1961). A larger sample size and a more
Several studies have shown that the density of accurate technique for measuring handedness (e.g.
Meissner’s corpuscles decreases with age but from live subjects) may yield a significant finding of a
60 y onwards, the decrease levels out (Schimrigk & greater density of Meissner’s corpuscles in the non-
Ruttinger, 1980 ; Thornbury & Mistretta, 1981 ; dominant hand.
Darian-Smith, 1984). The age range of the cadavers in The finding of no significant relationship between
the present study was 63–92 y and the lack of a Meissner’s corpuscles and dermatoglyphic patterns or
significant correlation found between decreasing ridge counts suggests that the arrangement of the
Meissner’s corpuscles, dermatoglyphics and finger size 583

ridges and grooves is inconsequential to tactile acuity. were no significant differences between left and right
However, Loesch & Martin (1984) claimed that hands and fingers.
greater sensitivity is associated with loops. This
greater sensitivity may relate to other mechano-
              
receptors besides Meissner’s corpuscles or the actual
arrangement of the ridges into the loop pattern. The authors wish to thank Mr Wesley Fisk, Mr Stelios
Other sensory nerve endings besides Meissner’s Michas and Mrs Gail Hermanis, Department of
corpuscles may have varying distributions in the Anatomical Sciences, Adelaide University, for their
different finger print patterns and hence account for technical advice and assistance. The public support
the greater sensitivity found by Loesch & Martin for the body donor program at the Adelaide Uni-
(1984) in loops. For example, it has been shown that versity is also gratefully acknowledged for making the
study possible.
there is a high density of Merkel cells present in the
pads of the finger (Lacour et al. 1991) and a suggestion
is made that perhaps the overlying epidermal ridges 
influence the distribution of the Merkel cells. ACREE MA (1999) Is there a gender difference in finger print ridge
If the underlying nerve receptors are not the cause density? Forensic Science International 102, 34–44.
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