, Volume 148, Issue 1, pp 111-125

Structure of rat liver sinusoids and associated tissue spaces as revealed by scanning electron microscopy

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The inner surface of sinusoids and adjacent hepatocytes have been examined by scanning electron microscopy. The endothelial cells lining the sinusoids show large numbers of fenestrations which vary greatly in size and arrangement. Some are very small (0.1 μm) and arranged in clusters; others that are much larger (∼1.0 μm) are subdivided by slender strands of cytoplasm. At sites where the larger fenestrae are present it is evident that the endothelial lining of the sinusoid is double. This may represent a kind of structural assurance against complete breakdown of what seems to be a very thin and fragile endothelial wall. Junctions between adjacent endothelial cells have not been found in these preparations.

The open continuity of the sinusoid is occasionally interrupted by slender extensions of cells morphologically distinct from the thin fenestrated endothelial cells. These possess a characteristically textured surface and are thought to represent stellate Kupffer cells.

The SEM images describe the subendothelial Spaces of Disse as being larger and as having more extensive ramifications than is generally evident from transmission micrographs. The space, limited on one side by the hepatocyte with numerous microvilli and on the other by endothelial cells, appears actually to be only part of an extensive labyrinth of intercellular channels. These connect the more discrete Spaces of Disse and extend into the narrower spaces between the hepatocytes. The total effect of this system is to expose the greater part of the liver cell surface to the blood filtrate. Microvilli populate the hepatocyte surfaces except for narrow margins which border the bile canaliculi. Whether their presence coincides with the adsorbing surfaces and their absence with secreting surfaces can be decided best by experimental studies.

This work was supported in part by a contract from the Special Virus Cancer Program, National Cancer Institute. The study was made while Dr. Motta was a guest investigator and Fulbright Scholar in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.