Age-related changes in morphology and secretory responses of male rat lacrimal gland

Clare E. Draper, Ernest Adeghate, Paul A. Lawrence, David J. Pallot, Andrew Garner, Jaipaul Singh

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This study investigates the differences in the outward appearance and morphology of lacrimal glands, the morphology within the lacrimal acinar cells and the secretion of protein from acinar cells of young (3-5 months) and aged (20 and 24 months) male rats. The appearance of the glands, as seen by the naked eye, differed between the three age-groups. The lacrimal gland of young animals was a smooth pink tissue, while the tissue from aged animals appeared lobular and white in colour, thought to result from infiltration of fatty/connective tissue. Glands from 24 month old animals had a more pronounced lobular appearance than the glands from 20 month old animals. Light microscopy studies revealed that as the animals aged there was evidence of progressive morphological changes. These changes included thickening of the connective tissue sheath, chronic inflammation with increased infiltration by mast cells, patchy destruction of ductal and vascular tissues, enlargement of lacrimal ducts, luminal swelling of the acini, and changes in acinar type. Electron microscopy (EM) studies revealed the presence of 3 types of acini in the rat lacrimal gland: acini which contained only protein secretory granules (serous acini), acini which contained protein and mucous secretory granules (seromucous acini), and acini which contained only mucous secretory granules (mucous acini). In young glands the majority of acini were serous with a few seromucous acini and even fewer mucous acini. In aged glands there were significant reductions in serous acini (ANOVA; P < 0.01) when compared to the young glands. In 20-month-old glands, there were marked increases in the percentage occurrence of seromucous acini, while in 24 month old glands, there were large increases in the relative number of mucous acini. Qualitative EM studies demonstrated that the typical acini from young glands contained numerous protein secretory granules. Ageing was associated with a progressive loss of protein (serous) secretory granules. Furthermore, marked changes and patchy destruction of the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus were observed in acini of glands from aged rats when compared to acini of glands from young rats. Measurement of total protein output from acini revealed a significant (Student's t-test, P < 0.05) decrease in protein secretion from aged glands compared to glands from young animals. These results suggest that not only is there considerable structural damage, chronic inflammation and mast cell infiltration to the lacrimal gland with ageing, but also possible redifferentiation of acini from serous to seromucous and then to mucous acini. Furthermore, the results also suggest a reduction or an inability of the acini to synthesise and to secrete protein from glands of aged animals compared to glands of young rats. All of these changes appear to occur more rapidly as the rats mature between 20 and 24 months. These findings provide a morphological basis to explain the phenomenon of reduced tear/protein secretion with ageing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-183
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the Autonomic Nervous System
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 30 1998


  • Acetylcholine
  • Adrenaline
  • Lacrimal gland
  • Microscopy
  • Morphology
  • Rat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology
  • Clinical Neurology


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