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Ultrastructure and fluorescence histochemistry of endocrine (APUD-type) cells in tracheal mucosa of human and various animal species

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This study describes distinctive cells with ultrastructural and histochemical features of APUD-type endocrine cells within the tracheal epithelium of human fetuses, newborns and children as well as different animal species. These cells referred to as Kultschitzky cells (K cells) were found to be argyrophilic, but not argentaffin, and are considered analogous to the same type of cells in lung and gastro-intestinal tract.

Fluorescence histochemistry demonstrated the presence of intracellular amine within tracheal K cells, but only after in-vitro or in-vivo administration of amine precursor (L-DOPA). Ultrastructurally, these cells are characterized by the presence of numerous cytoplasmic granules (dense core vesicles) which show species related morphologic variations. Two different types of K cells were found in trachea of lamb and armadillo, each type possessing morphologically different dense core vesicles. In human and rabbit tracheas, only one type of K cell was identified.

K cells in the trachea are distributed as single cells between other epithelial cells; neuroepithelial bodies such as those found in bronchial mucosa were not identified. Well differentiated K cells were found in tracheas of early human fetuses and throughout gestation, infancy, and childhood. Preservation of K cells in human autopsy material and widespread occurrence of these cells in various laboratory animals will permit further studies into the nature and function of tracheobronchial endocrine cells.

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Correspondence to Dr. E. Cutz.

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Supported by grant MA-4690 from the Medical Research Council of Canada.

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Cutz, E., Chan, W., Wong, V. et al. Ultrastructure and fluorescence histochemistry of endocrine (APUD-type) cells in tracheal mucosa of human and various animal species. Cell Tissue Res. 158, 425–437 (1975). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00220210

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Key words

  • Tracheal epithelium (human, animal)
  • APUD-Endocrine system
  • Electron microscopy
  • Histochemistry