, Volume 188, Issue 3, pp 209-218

Epidermal lipid in several cetacean species: ultrastructural observations

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Abstract

The ultrastructure of the skin of four cetacean species, bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melaena), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), and fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) was investigated with particular reference to epidermal lipid. It has already been established that massive lipid reservoirs exist in whales, that the biochemical structures of cetacean lipids are unique, and that unusual intracellular lipid droplets appear in the epidermis. We report here some novel findings on scanning electron microscopic morphology of epidermal lipid, and on its ultrastructural morphology in general and specialized integumentary sites, including species not previously investigated. The intracellular epidermal lipid droplets were more extensive than lamellar body-derived intercellular lipid which is within the interstices of stratum externum cells. The intracellular droplets were spherical, highly variable in size ranging from 0.24 μm to 3.0 μm in diameter, appeared singly or were aggregated in cytoplasmic cavitations, and often were closely associated with epidermal cell nuclei. Evidence for exocytosis of the intracellular droplets was not observed. Significant numbers of intracellular lipid droplets are not observed in the epidermis of terrestrial mammals, so their presence is one of several aquatic specializations of the cetacean integument. Its full significance remains obscure, but it is more probably associated with epidermal cell metabolism than with secretion of lipid.