European Journal of Endocrinology vol:153 issue:1 pages:1-12
Historically, the study of folliculo-stellate (FS) cells of the anterior pituitary dates back to the onset of electron microscopical observation of the pituitary gland. The morphological and electrophysiological characteristics, topographical distribution and contribution to intercellular junctions of these FS cells have been instrumental to the understanding of their putative function. Moreover, many studies have documented the role of FS cells as a source of newly discovered peptides, growth factors and cytokines. Quantitative immunohistochemical observation of FS cells in situ and functional in vitro studies, using either cultured FS cells or cells from an immortalized FS cell line, forwarded the notion of immunophenotypical and functional heterogeneity of the FS cell group. Double immunolabeling with a classical FS cell marker (S-100 protein) and with major histocompatibility complex class II markers characteristic for dendritic cells (DC) have shown a considerable overlap of FS cells with DC. The latter cells are immunocompetent cells belonging to the mononuclear phagocyte system. In this review, the FS cell heterogeneity is discussed with respect to the question of their embryological origin and developmental fate and with respect to the physiological relevance of functionally heterogeneous subpopulations. Recent findings of a myeloid origin of part of the interstitial cells of the anterior pituitary are confronted by other developmental paradigms of pituitary cell differentiation. The possibility that FS cells represent an adult stem cell population of the pituitary is critically examined. Also the physiological role of FS cells in the interferon-gamma- and nitric oxide-mediated effects on pituitary hormone secretion is discussed. New approaches for the study of this enigmatic cell group using immortalized cell lines and new markers for an hitherto unrecognized pituitary cell population, the so-called 'side population', are evaluated.