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Front Zool. 2012 Aug 21;9(1):21. doi: 10.1186/1742-9994-9-21.

Evidence of a true pharyngeal tonsil in birds: a novel lymphoid organ in Dromaius novaehollandiae and Struthio camelus (Palaeognathae).

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Department of Anatomy and Physiology, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, Private Bag X04, Onderstepoort, 0110, South Africa.
Contributed equally



Tonsils are secondary lymphoid organs located in the naso- and oropharynx of most mammalian species. Most tonsils are characterised by crypts surrounded by dense lymphoid tissue. However, tonsils without crypts have also been recognised. Gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), although not well-organised and lacking tonsillar crypts, is abundant in the avian oropharynx and has been referred to as the "pharyngeal tonsil". In this context the pharyngeal folds present in the oropharynx of ratites have erroneously been named the pharyngeal tonsils. This study distinguishes between the different types and arrangements of lymphoid tissue in the pharyngeal region of D. novaehollandiae and S. camelus and demonstrates that both species possess a true pharyngeal tonsil which fits the classical definition of tonsils in mammals.


The pharyngeal tonsil (Tonsilla pharyngea) of D. novaehollandiae was located on the dorsal free surface of the pharyngeal folds and covered by a small caudo-lateral extension of the folds whereas in S. camelus the tonsil was similarly located on the dorsal surface of the pharyngeal folds but was positioned retropharyngeally and encapsulated by loose connective tissue. The pharyngeal tonsil in both species was composed of lymph nodules, inter-nodular lymphoid tissue, mucus glands, crypts and intervening connective tissue septa. In S. camelus a shallow tonsillar sinus was present. Aggregated lymph nodules and inter-nodular lymphoid tissue was associated with the mucus glands on the ventral surface of the pharyngeal folds in both species and represented the Lymphonoduli pharyngeales. Similar lymphoid tissue, but more densely packed and situated directly below the epithelium, was present on the dorsal, free surface of the pharyngeal folds and represented a small, non-follicular tonsil.


The follicular pharyngeal tonsils in D. novaehollandiae and S. camelus are distinct from the pharyngeal folds in these species and perfectly fit the classical mammalian definition of pharyngeal tonsils. The presence of a true pharyngeal tonsil differentiates these two ratite species from other known avian species where similar structures have not been described. The pharyngeal tonsils in these ratites may pose a suitable and easily accessible site for immune response surveillance as indicated by swelling and inflammation of the tonsillar tissue and pharyngeal folds. This would be facilitated by the fact that the heads of these commercially slaughtered ratites are discarded, thus sampling at these sites would not result in financial losses.

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