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Histological identification of osteocytes in the allegedly acellular bone of the sea breams Acanthopagrus australis, Pagrus auratus and Rhabdosargus sarba (Sparidae, Perciformes, Teleostei)

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The bone of advanced teleost fishes such as those of the family Sparidae is said to lack osteocytes or to be acellular. Acellularity has been determined by apparent lack of osteocyte lacunae. This study questions the validity of this criterion. Scanning electron and light microscopy of paraffin and resin sections were used to show that the sides of sea bream mandibles consist of laminar parallel-fibred bone that we call tubular bone, because it contains tubules, and localised regions of Sharpey fibre bone. Osteocytes lie along the walls of tubules that also contain collagen fibril bundles (T-fibres), or in the lumens of tubules that do not contain T-fibres. We show that the osteocytes are derived from osteoblasts. The T-fibre system is different from other fibre systems that have been described. The tubules enclose wide T-fibres (lenticular in cross-section, maximum width about 8 μm) that taper at their ends and continue as thin T-fibres (round in crosssection, about 2 μm wide). The T-fibres originate in the periosteum. In mature tubular bone, spaces of increasing size develop around the osteocytes. Osteocytes are released from the bone matrix and become postosteocytes or bone-lining cells. Secondary bone lines the largest spaces. In Sharpey fibre bone, small osteocytes in small lacunae (about 2 μm wide) are found in columns parallel to the Sharpey fibres. Large osteocytes are found in large round spaces and are much larger than comparable osteocytes in lacunae in the bone of the salmon Salmo salar. We conclude that an absence of visible or conventional osteocyte lacunae does not mean that the cells themselves are absent. There are cells and two types of collagen fibre bundle in the tubules. The cells are osteocytes derived from osteoblasts, and these osteocytes apparently resorb bone with the result that large amounts of bone are destroyed. “Acellular” tubular and Sharpey fibre bone are types of cellular bone that differ from each other and from conventional cellular bone.

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Correspondence to Jack R. Bassett.

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Hughes, D.R., Bassett, J.R. & Moffat, L.A. Histological identification of osteocytes in the allegedly acellular bone of the sea breams Acanthopagrus australis, Pagrus auratus and Rhabdosargus sarba (Sparidae, Perciformes, Teleostei). Anat Embryol 190, 163–179 (1994).

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Key words

  • Acellular fish bone
  • Osteocyte
  • Microscopy
  • Sparidae
  • Salmon