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Microstructural and histochemical advances on the digestive gland of the common cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis L.

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The cephalopod digestive gland is a complex organ that, although analogous to the vertebrate liver, has additional functions, with special (albeit not exclusive) note on its active role in digestion. Although the structure of the digestive cell and its main constituents are well known (among which “boules” and brown bodies are distinctive features), histological details of other cell types and the general structure of the digestive gland need still further research. By a thorough combination of histological and histochemical techniques, it is shown that the digestive gland diverticula of the common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis L.) are comprised of three essential cell types: digestive, basal and excretory. Basal (“pyramidal”) cells are multi-functional, being responsible for cell replacement and detoxification, mainly through the production of calcic spherulae containing metals like copper and lead in a complex organic matrix of proteins and ribonucleins. Since copper- and lead-positive spherulae were almost absent from other cell types and lumen of the tubules, it appears that controlled bioaccumulation of these metals, rather than excretion, is the main detoxification mechanism. The results show that the organ is crossed by an intricate network of blood vessels, especially arteries and arterioles, whose contents share histochemical properties with a particular set of “boules” that are shed into the lumen of diverticula for elimination, suggesting that the organ actively removes unwanted metabolites from the haemolymph. Conversely, the rarer excretory cells appear to be specialized in the elimination of salts. Although the exact nature of many excretory and secretory products, as the metabolic pathways that originate them, remain elusive, the findings suggest an intricate interaction between the different cell types and between these and the surrounding media: haemolymph and digestive tract.

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P.M. Costa was supported by the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation (FCT) through the Grant SFRH/BPD/72564/2010. The present research was financed by FCT and co-financed by the European Community FEDER through the program COMPETE (project reference PTDC/SAU-ESA/100107/2008). The authors are deeply thankful to Dr. Alan J. Phillips (CREM, DCV, FCT-UNL) for the language revision of the manuscript. The authors also acknowledge S. Caeiro, S. Carreira and L. Jacinto for their important assistance.

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Correspondence to Pedro M. Costa.

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Communicated by A. Schmidt-Rhaesa.

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Costa, P.M., Rodrigo, A.P. & Costa, M.H. Microstructural and histochemical advances on the digestive gland of the common cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis L.. Zoomorphology 133, 59–69 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00435-013-0201-8

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  • Cephalopod
  • Histology
  • Digestive diverticula
  • Digestive cell
  • Pyramid cell
  • Spherule