The vasculature of the gills in the aquatic and aestivating lungfish (Protopterus aethiopicus)
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Studies were undertaken of the microcirculation and histology of the gill of Protopterus aethiopicus as a prerequisite for elucidating the function of the gills in a bimodal respiratory system. The lamellae of the gill-bearing arches (I, IV, V, VI) resembles the arborescent external gill of the larval amphibian rather than the gill of the teleost or selachian. The arterio-arterial system (a-a) of the gill consists of an afferent artery, a series of large capillaries, and an efferent artery on each of the primary, secondary and tertiary lamellae. There are no pillar cells and the loose capillaries are covered with a multilayered epithelium. While living in water, the minimum distance for gas exchange is of the order of 5 μ. An afferent-efferent arterial shunt at the base of each primary lamella may be involved in control of lamellar blood flow and the resistance of the gill vasculature. The arterio-venous system originates primarily from the efferent side of the arterio-arterial system and drains into large branchial veins. Numerous contractile cisternae, interposed between intercellular channels and veins, presumably function as micropumps that collect fluid from intercellular epithelial spaces and inject it into the venous circulation. During aestivation, the epithelial layer of the gill lamellae becomes thinner. The entire gill vasculature, including the capillaries and afferent-efferent shunts on arches IV-VI, are very dilated which presumably promotes blood flow through these gill arches to the lungs.
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