Interfollicular fibroblasts in the human thyroid gland: recognition of a CD34 positive stromal cell network communicated by gap junctions and terminated by autonomic nerve endings

J Submicrosc Cytol Pathol. 1997 Oct;29(4):461-76.


While epithelial structure and functions have been substantially investigated in many organs, the mesenchymal elements have received less attention. Compared with follicular epithelial cells, there are a few morphological studies on the stroma of human thyroid gland. In order to characterize more fully and assess its possible functions, 15 samples of surgical and autopsy human thyroid tissue were studied by classical histology, immunohistochemistry, transmission electron microscopy, electron microscopic immunohistochemistry, and scanning electron microscopy. In human thyroid gland, the interfollicular connective tissue surrounding the follicles contained collagenous matrix, fibroblasts, unmyelinated nerve fibers with Schwann cells, small blood vessels, lymphatics, lymphocytes, plasma cells, macrophages, and mast cells. At the ultrastructural level, gap junctions between the cytoplasmic processes of interfollicular fibroblasts constituted a novel observation. Immunohistochemistry using a monoclonal antibody against Cx43 confirmed the distribution of gap junctions between stromal fibroblastic cells, which was compatible with the ultrastructural findings. The frequent and intimate association of fibroblastic processes with nerve terminals was also shown. Interfollicular stromal fibroblasts also stained with CD34. The main constituent of the human thyroid stromal tissue was a CD34 positive reticular network involving fibroblasts, mononuclear cells and nerve terminals. It represents a highly ordered stroma, with potential structural and functional similarities to the stroma of bone marrow (Yamazaki and Allen, 1990).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Autonomic Nervous System / cytology*
  • Cell Communication*
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Gap Junctions / ultrastructure*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Middle Aged
  • Stromal Cells / cytology*
  • Thyroid Gland / cytology*
  • Thyroid Gland / innervation