The sheep pulmonary intraepithelial APUD system was studied by histochemical, immunocytochemical, and electron microscopy techniques during different periods of lung development: embryonic, fetal (pseudoglandular, canalicular, and alveolar), and postnatal.
The cells of the ovine pulmonary intraepithelial APUD system were found randomly distributed throughout the conducting and respiratory or undifferentiated airways. They appeared as isolated cells (solitary neuroendocrine cells) or in groups (neuroepithelial bodies).
These cells were argyrophilic and immunoreactive for neuron-specific enolase but were not argentaffin. Ultrastructurally they were characterized by a basal position in the respiratory epithelium and by the presence of neurosecretory granules (dense-core vesicles) ranging between 65 and 230 nm of diametre.
Quantitative studies showed that single neuroendocrine cells were more numerous in distal conducting airways and at fetal stages.
The earliest identifiable argyrophilic and NSE-immunoreactive neuroendocrine cells in sheep airways appeared at gestational week 5, close to the term of the embryonic period.