Journal of Neurocytology vol:29 issue:4 pages:241-248
The intrapulmonary airways contain oxygen-sensitive chemoreceptors which may be analogous to the arterial chemoreceptors: the neuroepithelial bodies (NEB). While the NEB are prominent in the neonatal lung, physiological studies indicate that the carotid bodies are still relatively inactive at birth. This points to an unequal degree of development of both during the early neonatal period. As a reflexogenic chemoreceptor function depends on a well-developed innervation, we undertook a comparative investigation of the development of the NEB and the carotid body glomus cell innervation. Two morphological aspects of the innervation of NEB and carotid body glomus cells were quantified in rabbits of different age groups. The total sectional area of intracorpuscular and intraglomerular nerve endings per NEB or glomus cell group, respectively, was measured and the area percentage of mitochondria and synaptic vesicles was determined. In the NEB, no significant difference in total sectional area of the nerve endings between the age groups was observed, while in the carotid body there was a significant increase in the adult age group. In addition, the area percentage of mitochondria and synaptic vesicles of the nerve endings did not change significantly with age in the NEB, while in the carotid body these increased and decreased, respectively, with age. These observations point to a shift from morphologically efferent nerve endings, rich in synaptic vesicles, to morphologically afferent nerve endings, rich in mitochondria. Our interpretation of these findings is that, at birth, the NEB innervation is more mature than the carotid body glomus cell innervation and that the latter matures at a later time than the former. These findings support the theory that the NEB may act as complementary chemoreceptors to the carotid body during the early postnatal period.