Ultrastructure of transitional epithelium of man

  • Benito Monis
  • David Zambrano


Blocks of human normal renal pelvis and ureter obtained at the time of surgery were fixed in glutaraldehyde and osmium with or without ruthenium red, for electron microscopic observations. The transitional epithelium is arranged in three cell layers: basal, intermediate and superficial. All epithelial cells show numerous microvilli and contain the characteristic vesicles of transitional epithelium, bundles of cytoplasmic filaments, microtubules and numerous free ribosomes. The epithelial extracellular compartment is notably large and appears as an intricate, tridimensional network of canaliculi and cisternae which are wider in the intermediate and superficial layers and in which microvilli and cytoplasmic folds of vicinal cells are often attached or interdigitated. At these sites there are desmosomes.

The surface of all transitional epithelial cells is covered by a fibrillar mucous coat which is more developed at the plasmalemma of the free border of luminal cells in which microvilli are also seen. Ruthenium red stains selectively the plasmalemma and the mucous coat of the free surface of the epithelium, indicating the presence of an acid polysaccharide. With this technic (Luft, 1965), it is observed, radiating from the plasmalemma, branching filaments which measure 100 Å in diameter forming a zone of varying density which is about 400 mμ wide and which corresponds, at the light microscopic level, to the luminal border of the transitional epithelial cells in which a sialomucin has been identified. The slender filaments have a beaded appearance. At the free border, superficial cells are attached by functional complexes in which tight junctions seal the epithelial intercellular space, which is opened at the level of the basement membrane where only desmosomes are observed.

The ultrastructure of human transitional epithelium of urinary tract resembles the duct cells of the salt gland of certain marine birds (Fawcett, 1962) and the amphibian epidermis (Farquhar and Palade, 1965) in which there are active processes of transport. The mucous surface coat, selectively stained by the ruthenium red, contains a sialomucin (Monis and Dorfman, 1965, 1967).

The ultrastructure and histochemistry of the mucous fluffy coat of man transitional epithelium and the observations of Porter and Tamm (1955), on the ultrastructure of preparations of the Tamm and Horsfall mucoprotein (1952) are bases for suggesting that transitional epithelium of urinary tract of man is the site of biosynthesis of certain urinary mucoids. Present investigations are directed to obtain evidence to substantiate this hypothesis.


Salt Gland Light Microscopic Level Transitional Epithelium Marine Bird Numerous Microvillus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

General Abbreviations


basal cell


exfoliating cell


intermediate cell




superficial cell


surface coat


basement membrane


cell infolding


desmosome (macula adhaerens)




cytoplasmic filaments


intercellular space


junctional complex
















round vesicle


zonula occludens


zonula adherens


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1968

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benito Monis
    • 1
    • 2
  • David Zambrano
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Histology, Facultad de MedicinaUniversidad Nacional del NordesteCorrientesArgentina
  2. 2.Instituto de Anatomía General y Embriologia, Facultad de MedicinaUniversidad de Buenos AiresArgentina

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