Vascular Anatomy of the Gills in a High Energy Demand Teleost, the Skipjack Tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis)

Kenneth R. Olson, Heidi Dewar, Jeffrey B. Graham, Richard W. Brill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations


Tunas (family: Scombridae, Tribe: Thunnini) exhibit anatomical, physiological, and biochemical adaptations that dramatically increase the ability of their cardiorespiratory systems to transfer oxygen from the water to the tissues. In the present study the vascular anatomy of the skipjack tuna, Katsuwonus pelamis, gill was examined by light and scanning electron microscopic analysis of methyl methacrylate vascular corrosion replicas prepared under physiological pressure. The gill filament contains three distinct blood pathways, respiratory, interlamellar, and nutrient. The respiratory, or arterio-arterial (AA) pathway, is the site of gas exchange and consists of the afferent and efferent filamental arteries (AFA and EFA) and arterioles (ALA and ELA) and the lamellae. Each ALA in the basal filament supplies ten or more lamellae and they anastomose with their neighbor to form a continuous vascular arcade. Four modifications in the lamellar circulation appear to enhance gas exchange efficiency. 1) The ALA deliver blood directly to the outer margin of the lamellae where unstirred boundary layer effects are predicted to be minimal and water PO2 highest. 2) Pillar cells are closely aligned along the outer boundary of the inlet side and the inner boundary of the outlet side of the lamellae to form multiple distributing and receiving blood channels. 3) Elsewhere in the lamella, pillar cells are aligned to form diagonal channels that direct blood from the outer to the inner lamellar margins, thereby reducing vascular resistance. 4) The lamellar sinusoid is especially widened near the efferent end to augment oxygen saturation of blood flowing through the inner margin. These adaptations, plus the presence of a bow-shaped interlamellar septum, and a thinned filament core appear to decrease gill vascular resistance and maximize gas-exchange efficiency. The interlamellar (IL) and nutrient systems originate from post-lamellar vessels and are arterio-venous (AV) pathways. IL vessels form an extensive ladder-like lattice on both sides of the filamental cartilage and are supplied in part by narrow-bore vessels from the medial wall of the EFA. Their function is unknown. Nutrient vessels are formed from the confluence of a myriad of tortuous, narrow-bore vessels arising from the basal region of the EFA and from efferent branchial arteries. They re-enter the filament and eventually drain into the IL system or filamental veins. As these AV pathways are retained despite considerable reduction in filamental tissue, it is evident that they are integral components of other non-respiratory homeostatic activities of the gill.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-31
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Comparative Experimental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology

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