The innervation of the rat Harderian gland was studied using histochemical methods for catecholamines and acetylcholinesterase (AChE). Selective denervations were performed to investigate the neural connections of this gland with various ganglia.
Light microscopically the AChE-positive nerves seemed to run as thick bundles in the intertubular connective tissue. These bundles sent finer branches around the acini. The blood vessels, localized in the connective tissue septa, were surrounded by a dense plexus of AChE-containing fibres. By electron microscopy, the AChE-positive fibres were seen to terminate near the myoepithelial cells surrounding secretory cells. These fibres were also observed in contact with the blood vessels and occasionally close to the secretory cells. Fluorescent adrenergic nerves surrounded the blood vessels. Some fibres were also observed in the interlobular tissue.
All the AChE-containing nerves degenerated after cutting the zygomatic nerve. On the other hand, removal of the ciliary ganglion or the superior cervical ganglion, or stereotactic coagulation of the ophthalmic nerve did not affect these nerves. The fluorescent adrenergic fibres disappeared following both removal of the superior cervical ganglion and coagulation of the ophthalmic nerve. These fibres were intact after removal of the ciliary ganglion.