Ultrastructural features of mitochondria-rich cells in stenohaline freshwater and seawater fishes

Am J Anat. 1990 Jan;187(1):21-31. doi: 10.1002/aja.1001870104.


In order to elucidate the functional significance of accessory cells in freshwater fishes, such as the rainbow trout, which displays a poor adaptability to seawater life, a search for such cells was performed in two stenohaline freshwater fishes: the loach and the gudgeon. Accessory cells were never encountered in these species; but, in contrast, two types of chloride cells were observed consistently that strikingly resembled the alpha- and beta-cells previously described in the guppy, a freshwater-adapted euryhaline fish. The alpha-cell, a pale and elongated chloride cell, was located at the base of the secondary lamellae in close contact with the arterioarterial pillar capillary. Darker, ovoid chloride cells resembling the beta-cell were found exclusively in the interlamellar region of the primary epithelium facing the central venous sinous. The latter cells frequently formed multicellular complexes linked together by deep, narrow, apical junctions. In another experiment, a stenohaline seawater fish, the turbot, was adapted to diluted 5% saltwater and to fresh water. In seawater, the gill epithelium contained only one type of chloride cell, always associated with accessory cells. Due to numerous cytoplasmic interdigitations between the accessory cells and the apical portion of the chloride cell, there was a noticeable increase in the length of the shallow apical junction, sealing off the intercellular space between the two cell types. In 5% saltwater, there was a decrease in the number of these interdigitations and a concomitant decrease in the length of the shallow apical junction. In fresh water, chloride cells were partially or completely separated from the outside medium by modified accessory cells. It is thus concluded that accessory cells are found exclusively in fish living in seawater or preadapted to seawater and that they probably are involved in the formation and modulation of paracellular pathways for ionic excretion. In contrast, the respective roles of the two types of chloride cells observed in freshwater fishes are still to be determined.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Cypriniformes / anatomy & histology
  • Cypriniformes / physiology
  • Fishes / anatomy & histology*
  • Fishes / physiology
  • Flatfishes / anatomy & histology
  • Flatfishes / physiology
  • Fresh Water
  • Gills / ultrastructure*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure*
  • Seawater