Morphological observations on the Harderian gland of the North American opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

William J. Krause, Paul G. McMenamin

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The Harderian gland of the North American opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is large and well developed, despite the absence of a nictitating membrane in the adult of this species. The elongate glands are surrounded by a delicate connective tissue capsule from which thin septae extend, subdividing the gland into numerous lobules. The secretory units of the opossum Harderian gland are drained by a well defined but not extensive intralobular and interlobular duct system. Most of the secretory end pieces consist of tubuloalveolar units with widely dilated lumina filled with secretory product. Numerous intact lipid vesicles suspended within an amorphous material constitute the luminal contents. Cells lining the tubuloalveolar secretory endpieces are usually columnar in shape, and characterized by numerous lipid-containing secretory vesicles and aggregations of polytubular complexes 40-60 nm in diameter. In addition, these cells contain numerous large irregularly shaped mitochondria, whose matrix is of considerable electron density. Intralobular and interlobular ducts are lined by electron-lucent epithelial cells that lack both the lipid-containing vesicles and the large mitochondria, although typical smaller mitochondria are found scattered within the cytoplasm. Both secretory endpieces and ductal elements are invested by an abundance of myoepithelial cells. A second, smaller serous type of secretory unit may occur near the centre of some Harderian gland lobules. In these units secretory tubules and acini are compactly arranged surrounding a narrow lumen. Serous cells are pyramidal in shape and the cytoplasm is characterized by numerous electron-dense secretory granules and scattered profiles of rough endoplasmic reticulum. Basolateral cell membranes show extensive infoldings and intercellular canaliculi are present. The overall size of cells forming the serous secretory units is much less than that comprising the tubuloalveolar secretory endpieces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-152
Number of pages8
JournalAnatomy and Embryology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • Harderian gland
  • Opossum
  • Serous endpieces
  • Tubuloalveolar endpieces
  • Ultrastructure

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