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Extraocular muscles: Morphogenetic study in humans light microscopy and ultrastructural features

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The development of human extraocular muscles (EOM) was studied in a series of fetal specimens (12–24 weeks gestation). EOM were evaluated by enzyme histochemistry (EZ) (NADH and ATPase), by differential phase contrast microscopy (DPC) and electron microscopy (EM). In the early fetus (14 weeks), there was no clear-cut sub-division into fibre types. A uniform histochemical reaction was seen with NADH while ATPase showed light and dark myotubes. Myotubes contained large central nuclei, prominent eccentric nucleoli, abundant glycogen granules, free ribosomes, numerous mitochondria, and dense and looser bundles of myofilaments. Mesenchymal cells undergoing mitosis and fibroblasts with prominent stacks of rough endoplasmic reticulum were scattered within endomysium. Mast cells with well formed cytoplasmic granules were found as early as 18–24 weeks. The same specimens by DPC showed differentiation into at least 4 different fibre types at 12 weeks. All the intramuscular nerves at 12–16 weeks were composed of unmyelinated fibres. At 18 weeks, myelinated axons were present. Morphologically immature end-plates devoid of junctional folds were found at 12 weeks. The motor innervation of some EOM appears to be derived from more than one axon (multiple innervated fibres). At 18 weeks gestational age, differentiation into fibre types became apparent by enzyme histochemistry. These histochemical and morphological findings suggest that morphologically mature endplates are not prerequisites for differentiation into muscle fibre types.

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Correspondence to A. Julio Martinez.

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Martinez, A.J., McNeer, K.W., Hay, S.H. et al. Extraocular muscles: Morphogenetic study in humans light microscopy and ultrastructural features. Acta Neuropathol 38, 87–93 (1977). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00688553

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Key words

  • Human fetal muscle
  • Electron microscopy
  • Motor end-plate
  • Extraocular muscles