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Granule changes of human and murine endocrine cells in the gastrointestinal epithelia are characteristic of piecemeal degranulation.

  • Crivellato, Enrico
  • Ribatti, Domenico
  • Mallardi, Franco
  • Beltrami, Carlo Alberto
Published Article
The Anatomical record
Publication Date
Dec 01, 2002
PMID: 12420282


Piecemeal degranulation is a unique pattern of cell secretion that consists of a slow release of granule contents from cytoplasmic secretory granules, which leaves empty chambers that do not fuse with each other or with the plasma membrane. To our knowledge, no cell types other than mast cells, basophils, and eosinophils have been reported in the literature to show morphological features of piecemeal degranulation. In the present study we provide evidence for ultrastructural morphologies characteristic of piecemeal degranulation in entero-endocrine cells of the human and murine gastrointestinal epithelia. Human biopsy samples were taken from the mucosa of the distal duodenum, proximal jejunum, and colon in 10 patients undergoing endoscopic examination for malabsorption, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain. Murine gastrointestinal samples were obtained from 10 adult C57 mice. All specimens were prepared for transmission electron microscopy (TEM) according to standard protocols. Results showed that different types of gastrointestinal entero-endocrine cells, in both humans and mice, were recognizable with ultrastructural features diagnostic for piecemeal degranulation, including specific granule and cytoplasmic changes. In the granules, the content was found to be loosely packed or diminished. Notably, altered granules did not fuse with each other or with the plasma membrane, and were characteristically intermingled with normal, resting granules. At times, the release events transformed the granules into enlarged, empty containers. Numerous entero-endocrine cells presented a rich supply of membrane-bound vesicles (50-200 nm in diameter) that were free in the cytoplasm or attached to granules. This finding of piecemeal degranulation in gastrointestinal entero-endocrine cells suggests that such a secretory model might be a general degranulation pattern in cells involved in paracrine-endocrine secretion.

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