Vitamin A deprivation in hamsters - Correlations between tracheal epithelial morphology and serum/tissue levels of vitamin A

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Virchows Archiv B Cell Pathology Including Molecular Pathology








Epithelium; Hamster; Trachea; Vitamin A


The effects of vitamin A deprivation on the tracheal epithelium of young hamsters were investigated. Colchicine was administered 6 h prior to death to induce metaphase arrest, thus making it possible to quantify the mitotic rates of basal cells and secretory (mucous) cells in the epithelium. Blood samples were taken from all hamsters, and liver samples from some, in order to measure serum and tissue levels of vitamin A. Age-matched controls were compared with the following groups of hamsters maintained on a vitamin A deficient diet: (1) pre weight plateau animals (those gaining weight), (2) weight plateau-early weight loss animals (those maintaining approximately the same weight for 3 or 4 days, followed in some cases by a loss of weight for 3 or 4 days), and (3) prolonged weight loss animals (those showing a loss of weight for 5 or more days). Four week old hamsters in a pre weight plateau had undetectable amounts of vitamin A in their livers and declining levels in their serum, whereas 41/2 week old hamsters still gaining weight had barely detectable levels of vitamin A in their serum. Nevertheless, the tracheal epithelium of these animals was not different from controls in appearance, proportions of different cell types, mitotic rates of secretory and basal cells, or in the number of cells per millimeter of basement membrane (cell density). Vitamin A was undetectable in the serum and livers of hamsters in the weight plateau-early weight loss stage. At this time the tracheal epithelium showed minimal morphological change, with small focal areas of epidermoid metaplasia in some animals. The tracheas of animals in early weight loss were smaller than tracheas in the control group, and there was a trend towards an increase in the number of epithelial cells per millimeter basement membrane. Cell types in the minimally changed epithelium appeared nearly normal, but there was an increase in the proportion of basal cells, and an absence (or near absence) of division in both basal and secretory cells. Tracheal rings from hamsters in the prolonged weight loss stage were lined by a cornifying metaplastic epidermoid epithelium. Our findings demonstrate that barely detectable levels of vitamin A in the serum are sufficient to maintain normal growth and differentiation of hamster tracheal epithelium (late pre weight plateau stage). When vitamin A serum levels fall below detectable limits the animals enter the weight plateau-early weight loss stage. This stage is accompanied by an inhibition of tracheal epithelial cell growth, although nearly normal cellular differentiation is maintained. As weight loss persists (prolonged weight loss stage), the epithelial cells fail to maintain normal differentiation and cornifying epidermoid metaplasia becomes widespread. © 1985 Springer-Verlag.

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