The lumbosacral spinal cord of birds is unique among vertebrates in that segmentally organized accessory lobes protrude from the ventrolateral spinal cord into the vertebral canal. Recently, it has been suggested that these lobes may be part of an extralabyrinthine sense organ of equilibrium. For a better understanding of such a function, a complete analysis of the structural basis was performed by means of electron microscopy. The lobes consist of multipolar neurons, myelinated and unmyelinated axons, glia-derived glycogen cells, glial cells, and capillaries. The dorsal part of the lobe is covered by a loose mesh of pia mater. Ventrolaterally, an arachnoidal trabecle is in close contact with the lobe. Extracellular lacunae extend from the periphery deep into each lobe. The lacunae are separated from the subarachnoidal space by a loose mesh of processes of the glycogen cells with its basal lamina. The lacunae are filled by a network of processes of glycogen cells, glial cell, dendrites, and small axons. Both neuronal somata and dendrites are contacted by numerous axon terminals that form rather uniform synapses. Finger-like processes emerge from both the somata and the dendrites. The dendrites branch deeply into the extracellular lacunae and form lateral ramifications, which consist of narrow stalks with serially arranged bulbous portions, from which finger-like processes emerge. Finger-like processes are well-known elements in mechanotransduction. Glycogen cells and lacunae may contribute to transmission of hydrostatic pressure changes during movements of the body.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.