Clear Cells of Toker in the Developing Anogenital Region of Male and Female Fetuses

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The clear cells of Toker are a mysterious population of intra-epidermal glandular cells. They were originally described in nipples, but were recently observed in the vulva as well. It was hypothesized that intra-epidermal embryonic remnants or underlying glands were a potential source. The embryological aspects were investigated by studying specimens of the anogenital region of 18 male and 15 female fetuses between 12 and 39 weeks gestation. The search for Toker cells was enhanced by cytokeratin (CK) 7 immunohistochemistry. The investigation showed that Toker cell elements are a normal, though highly variable constituent of the developing anogenital region. The study revealed the following: (1) single intra-epidermal glandular vesicles near follicular anlages in interlabial sulcuses of female fetuses of 15 and 16.5 weeks gestation; (2) CK7+ solitary cells, clusters, and vesicles which were related to developing intra-epidermal follicular canal tracks and tended to disperse inside the epidermis in fetuses of approximately 18 weeks gestation; (3) dispersed CK7+ cells in fetuses of 19–23 weeks gestation; (4) characteristic CK7+ Toker cell proliferations in fetuses more than 23 weeks gestation. These observations indicate that in the anogenital region, primordial follicular cells programmed to participate in the formation of apocrine and mammary-like glands, become displaced into the epidermis where they disperse, and proliferate into Toker cell populations. However, the proximity of Toker cells to CK7+ cells in excretory ducts of late fetal apocrine and mammary-like glands suggested a possible additional source. Consequences for Toker cells of the breast and primary Paget disease are discussed.

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