Stereological assessment of sexual dimorphism in the rat liver reveals differences in hepatocytes and Kupffer cells but not hepatic stellate cells

R Marcos, C Lopes, F Malhao, C Correia-Gomes, S Fonseca, M Lima, R Gebhardt, E Rocha

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    There is long-standing evidence that male and female rat livers differ in enzyme activity. More recently, differences in gene expression profiling have also been found to exist; however, it is still unclear whether there is morphological expression of male/female differences in the normal liver. Such differences could help to explain features seen at the pathological level, such as the greater regenerative potential generally attributed to the female liver. In this paper, hepatocytes (HEP), Kupffer cells (KC) and hepatic stellate cells (HSC) of male and female rats were examined to investigate hypothesised differences in number, volume and spatial co-localisation of these cell types. Immunohistochemistry and design-based stereology were used to estimate total numbers, numbers per gram and mean cell volumes. The position of HSC within lobules (periportal vs. centrilobular) and their spatial proximity to KC was also assessed. In addition, flow cytometry was used to investigate the liver ploidy. In the case of HEP and KC, differences in the measured cell parameters were observed between male and female specimens; however, no such differences were detected for HSC. Female samples contained a higher number of HEP per gram, with more binucleate cells. The HEP nuclei were smaller in females, which was coincident with more abundant diploid particles in these animals. The female liver also had a greater number of KC per gram, with a lower percentage of KC in the vicinity of HSC compared with males. In this study, we document hitherto unknown morphological sexual dimorphism in the rat liver, namely in HEP and KC. These differences may account for the higher regenerative potential of the female liver and lend weight to the argument for considering the rat liver as a sexually dimorphic organ. © 2016 Anatomical Society.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)996 - 1005
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Anatomy
    Issue number6
    Publication statusFirst published - 2016


    • Dimorphism
    • Hepatic stellate cells
    • Hepatocytes
    • Kupffer cells
    • Liver
    • Stereology


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