Merkel cells are large oval cells found in the skin of vertebrates. They are associated with the sense of touch, and are responsible for the highly malignant skin tumor known as Merkel cell carcinoma.
They were named after the 19th century anatomist Friedrich Sigmund Merkel who was the first to fully describe them in 1872.
Merkel cells are found in the skin and some parts of the mucosa (stratum germinativum) of all vertebrates. In mammalian skin they are clear cells found in the stratum basale of the epidermis, and measure 10 – 15 µm across. Most often they are associated with sensory nerve endings, when they are known as Merkel nerve endings.
The exact function of Merkel cells is unclear. F.S. Merkel referred to them as Tastzellen or "touch cells", although their function has been disputed ever since. Merkel cells are sometimes considered APUD cells because they contain dense core granules, and thus may have a neuroendocrine function.
Merkel cells are derived from cells of the neural crest.