The subcommissural organ (SCO) is a conserved brain gland present throughout the vertebrate phylum. During ontogeny, it is the first secretory structure of the brain to differentiate. In the human, the SCO can be morphologically distinguished in 7- to 8-week-old embryos. The SCO of 3- to 5-month-old fetuses is an active, secretory structure of the brain. However, already in 9-month-old fetuses, the regressive development of the SCO-parenchyma is evident. In 1-year-old infants, the height of the secretory ependymal cells is distinctly reduced and they are grouped in the form of islets that alternate with cuboid non-secretory ependyma. The regression of the SCO continues during childhood, so that at the ninth year of life the specific secretory parenchyma is confined to a few islets of secretory ependymal cells. The human fetal SCO shares the distinct ultrastructural features characterizing the SCO of all other species, namely, a well-developed rough endoplasmic reticulum, with many of its cisternae being dilated and filled with a filamentous material, several Golgi complexes, and secretory granules of variable size, shape, and electron density. The human fetal SCO does not immunoreact with any of the numerous polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies raised against RF-glycoproteins of animal origin. This and the absence of RF in the human led to the conclusion that the human SCO does not secrete RF-glycoproteins. Taking into account the ultrastructural, lectin-histochemical, and immunocytochemical findings, it can be concluded that the human SCO, and most likely the SCO of the anthropoid apes, secrete glyco- protein(s) with a protein backbone of unknown nature, and with a carbohydrate chain similar or identical to that of RF-glycoproteins secreted by the SCO of all other species. These, as yet unidentified, glycoprotein(s) do not aggregate but become soluble in the CSF. Evidence is presented that these CSF-soluble proteins secreted by the human SCO correspond to (1) a 45-kDa compound similar or identical to transthyretin and, (2) a protein of about 500 kDa.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.