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J Morphol. 1993 Mar;215(3):261-87.

A microscopic investigation of the lymphoid organs of the beluga, Delphinapterus leucas.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Rochester School of Medicine, New York 14642.


Lymphoid organs from belugas, Delphinapterus leucas, ranging in age from less than one to 16 years, were harvested during a sanctioned hunt to investigate morphology. The spleen is divisible into red and white pulp and a stroma consisting of a reticular network, a collagenous capsule, and trabeculae containing smooth muscle bundles. White pulp areas appear to be devoid of follicles and consist mainly of periarteriolar lymphatic sheaths (PALS), that are larger in younger than in older belugas. Definitive marginal zones between red and white pulp are difficult to discern in older belugas. Lymph nodes are similar to those of other mammals; they possess a follicular cortex surrounding a vascular medulla composed of lymphatic cords and sinuses. Smooth muscle is abundant in the medullary region, usually in close proximity to sinuses. The expansive nodular mass at the root of the mesentery, often referred to as the "pseudopancreas," is similar to lymph nodes in microscopic architecture. Pharyngeal tonsils and gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) are found along the digestive tract and display an "active" morphology. Tonsils are comprised of lobules of follicles separated by vascular connective tissue. Epithelial-lined crypts communicate with the pharyngeal lumen. GALT consists of diffuse and follicular lymphocytes within the intestinal mucosa and submucosa. The thymus is well developed in the younger belugas, with lobules divisible into densely packed cortical zones of thymocytes and more loosely arranged medullary lymphocytes. Hassall's corpuscles are occasionally visible within the medulla. Cetaceans diverged evolutionarily from other mammals over 55 million years ago. This study investigates changes in lymphoid organ morphology in a species that now inhabits a unique ecological niche. This study also lays the groundwork for functional investigation of the beluga immune system, particularly as it relates to differences between healthy and stranded animals.

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