Co-option of epidermal cells enables touch sensing.
Mangione F., Titlow J., Maclachlan C., Gho M., Davis I., Collinson L., Tapon N.
The epidermis is equipped with specialized mechanosensory organs that enable the detection of tactile stimuli. Here, by examining the differentiation of the tactile bristles, mechanosensory organs decorating the Drosophila adult epidermis, we show that neighbouring epidermal cells are essential for touch perception. Each mechanosensory bristle signals to the surrounding epidermis to co-opt a single epidermal cell, which we named the F-Cell. Once specified, the F-Cell adopts a specialized morphology to ensheath each bristle. Functional assays reveal that adult mechanosensory bristles require association with the epidermal F-Cell for touch sensing. Our findings underscore the importance of resident epidermal cells in the assembly of functional touch-sensitive organs.