Ultrastructure and Blood Supply of the Tegmentum Vasculosum in the Cochlea of the Duckling

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The tegmentum vasculosum of the duckling consists of a highly folded epithelium which extends over the dorsal and lateral walls of the cochlear duct, separating the scala media from the scala vestibuli. This epithelium consists of two distinct cell types, dark cells and light cells, and is well vascularized. The surface of the epithelium is formed by a mosaic of alternating dark and light cells. The goblet-shaped dark cells have an electron-dense, organelle-rich cytoplasm, and are expanded basally by extensive basolateral plasma membrane infoldings, within which are numerous mitochondria. Dark cells are isolated from each other and from the capillaries within the epithelium by intervening light cells. In contrast, columnar light cells exhibit an electron-lucent, organelle-poor cytoplasm and may extend from the underlying capillaries to the endolymphatic surface. Light cells contain abundant, coated endocytic vesicles on their apical surfaces and are bound, apically, to other light cells or to dark cells by tight junctions and desmosomes. Laterally, light cells are linked to each other either by complex, fluid-filled membrane interdigitations or by extensive gap junctions. Plasma membrane interdigitations and obvious, fluid-filled intercellular spaces characterize the lateral borders between light and dark cells. Vascular corrosion casting reveals the three-dimensional anatomy of the cochlear vasculature. A continuous arteriolar loop fed by anterior and posterior cochlear arterioles encircles the cochlear duct. The rich capillary beds of the tegmentum vasculosum are supplied by arching arterioles arising from this loop. These capillaries are the continuous type and are situated primarily within the core of the epithelium or along its border with the scala vestibuli. The structure and blood supply of the tegmentum vasculosum are characteristic of an epithelium involved in active transport.