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In order to clarify fine structures of the hypothetical meridian conduits of Chinese traditional medicine (CTM) in the skin, the present study used light and transmission electron microscopy to examine fasciae in different vertebrate species. Collagen fiber bundles and layers were arranged in a crisscross pattern, which developed into a special tissue micro-channel (TMC) network, in a manner that was analogs to the proposed skin meridian conduits. It was further revealed that tissue fluid in lateral TMC branches drained into wide longitudinal channels, which were distinctly different from lymphatic capillary. Mast cells, macrophages, and extracellular vesicles such as ectosomes and exosomes were distributed around telocytes (TCs) and their long processes (Telopodes, Tps) within the TMC. Cell junctions between TCs developed, which could enable the communication between contiguous but distant Tps. On the other hand, winding free Tps without cell junctions were also uncovered inside the TMC. Tissue fluid, cell junctions of TCs, mast cells, macrophages, and extracellular vesicles within the TMC corresponded to the circulating “气血” (“Qi-Xue”, i.e., information, message, and energy) of meridian conduits at the cytological level. These results could provide morphological evidence for the hypothesis that “meridians are the conduit for Qi-Xue circulation” in CTM.
Telocytes (TCs) are very long, non-neuronal, somatic cells whose function is widely believed to be involved in providing connections between different cells within the body. The cellular characteristics of TCs in various organs have been studied by immunohistochemistry, double immunofluorescence and electron microscopy in different vertebrate species, and here we investigate the proposed properties of these cells in the context of the “meridian” in Chinese Traditional Medicine (CTM). The results show that TCs and their long extensions, telopodes (Tps) develop a complicated network by homo- and heterocellular junctions in the connective tissue throughout the body, which can connect the skin with distant organs. In concept, this is the analogue of ancient meridian maps connecting skin acupoints with the viscera. Various active cells and extracellular vesicles including exosomes move along Tps, which, along with developed mitochondria within the podoms of Tps, may account for the structural evidence for “Qi” (vital energy and signal communication) in CTM. Morphological associations of TCs with the nerve, vascular, endocrine, and immune systems are also compatible with previously proposed meridian theories in CTM. Close relationships exist between TCs and collagen fiber bundles and some structures in skin fascia provide the microanatomical support for acupuncture treatment based on the meridian principle. The dynamicity in the distribution and structure of TCs reflects the plasticity of the meridian at the cellular level. As the same attribute, both the meridian and the TC have been associated with various diseases. Here, we summarize structural analogues between the TC and the meridian, suggesting that TCs have the cytological characteristics of the CTM meridian. We, therefore, hypothesize that TCs are the “essence cells” of the CTM meridian, which can connect and integrate different cells and structures in the connective tissue.
Post-testicular maturation of spermatozoa is crucial for attaining the morphological and functional capabilities needed for successful fertilization. Epididymal epithelia offer a favorable environment for spermatozoa that are stored long term in the turtle epididymis; however, sperm–epithelial interactions during storage, which are enormously important for sperm functional and morphological maturation, are still largely unknown in turtles. The present study examined the epididymis during the sperm-storage period (November–April) in the Chinese soft-shelled turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis). Light and transmission electron microscopy were used to determine the cellular features of each epididymal segment (caput, corpus, and cauda) and their epithelial interactions with the spermatozoa. Spermatozoa were mainly located in the lumena of caput, corpus, and cauda epididymides. Numerous spermatozoa were bound to apical surfaces of the epithelia, and several were even embedded in the epithelial cytoplasm of the caput and corpus epididymides. No embedded spermatozoa were found in the cauda epididymis. In all epididymal segments, principal and clear cells showed the synthetic activity, evidenced by a well-developed endoplasmic reticulum network and high and low electron-dense secretory materials, respectively. Principal and clear cells in the caput and corpus segments showed embedded spermatozoa in electron-dense secretions and in the lipid droplets within the cytoplasm. No lysosomes were observed around the embedded spermatozoa. The lumena of the caput and corpus segments showed few apocrine and low electron density secretions. In the lumen of the cauda epididymidis, different secretions, such as holocrine with low and high electron density and their fragmentation, apocrine, and dictyosome, were found and are summarized. Altogether, sperm physical interactions with secretions either in the cytoplasm of epithelium or in the lumen may support the viability, morphological maintenance, and transfer of various proteins involved in long-term sperm storage in the turtle. This interaction could help us to understand the mechanisms of long-term sperm storage and provide more insights into the reproductive strategies of turtle sperm preservation.
The seminiferous tubule (ST) is the location of spermatogenesis, where mature spermatozoa are produced with the assistance of Sertoli cells. The role of extracellular vesicles in the direct communication between Sertoli-germ cells in the ST is still not fully understood. In this study, we reported multivesicular bodies (MVBs) and their source of CD63-enriched exosomes by light and ultrastructure microscopy during the reproductive phases of turtles. Strong CD63 immunopositivity was detected at the basal region in the early and luminal regions of the ST during late spermatogenesis by immunohistochemistry (IHC), immunofluorescence (IF), and western blot (WB) analysis. Labeling of CD63 was detected in the Sertoli cell cytoplasmic processes that surround the developing germ cells during early spermatogenesis and in the lumen of the ST with elongated spermatids during late spermatogenesis. Furthermore, ultrastructure analysis confirmed the existence of numerous MVBs in the Sertoli cell prolongations that surround the round and primary spermatogonia during acrosome biogenesis and with the embedded heads of spermatids in the cytoplasm of Sertoli cells. Additionally, in spermatids, Chrysanthemum flower centers (CFCs) generated isolated membranes involved in MVBs and autophagosome formation, and their fusion to form amphiosomes was also observed. Additionally, autophagy inhibition by 3-methyladenine (after 24 h) increased CD63 protein signals during late spermatogenesis, as detected by IF and WB. Collectively, our study found MVBs and CD63 rich exosomes within the Sertoli cells and their response to autophagy inhibition in the ST during the spermatogenesis in the turtle.
The present study was designed to investigate the in vivo biological processes of multivesicular bodies (MVBs) and exosomes in mitochondria-rich cells (MRCs), goblet cells (GCs), and absorptive cells (ACs) in turtle intestines during hibernation. The exosome markers, cluster of differentiation 63 (CD63) and tumor susceptibility gene 101 (TSG101), were positively expressed in intestinal villi during turtle hibernation. The distribution and formation processes of MVBs and exosomes in turtle MRCs, GCs, and ACs were further confirmed by transmission electron microscopy. During hibernation, abundantly secreted early endosomes (ees) were localized in the luminal and basal cytoplasm of the MRCs and ACs, and late endosomes (les) were dispersed with the supranuclear parts of the MRCs and ACs. Many “heterogeneous” MVBs were identified throughout the cytoplasm of the MRCs and ACs. Interestingly, the ees, les, and MVBs were detected in the cytoplasm of the GCs during hibernation; however, they were absent during nonhibernation. Furthermore, the exocytosis pathways of exosomes and autophagic vacuoles were observed in the MRCs, GCs, and ACs during hibernation. In addition, the number of different MVBs with intraluminal vesicles (ILVs) and heterogeneous endosome–MVB–exosome complexes was significantly increased in the MRCs, GCs, and ACs during hibernation. All these findings indicate that intestinal epithelial cells potentially perform a role in the secretion of MVBs and exosomes, which are essential for mucosal immunity, during hibernation.
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