• apoptosis;
  • cell proliferation;
  • mitochondria-rich cells;
  • paracellular channel;
  • pillar cell system atrophy


The gill structure of the Amazonian fish Arapaima gigas, an obligatory air breather, was investigated during its transition from water breathing to the obligatory air breathing modes of respiration. The gill structure of A. gigas larvae is similar to that of most teleost fish; however, the morphology of the gills changes as the fish grow. The main morphological changes in the gill structure of a growing fish include the following: (1) intense cell proliferation in the filaments and lamellae, resulting in increasing epithelial thickness and decreasing interlamellar distance; (2) pillar cell system atrophy, which reduces the blood circulation through the lamellae; (3) the generation of long cytoplasmic processes from the epithelial cells into the intercellular space, resulting in continuous and sinuous paracellular channels between the epithelial cells of the filament and lamella that may be involved in gas, ion, and nutrient transport to epithelial cells; and (4) intense mitochondria-rich cell (MRC) proliferation in the lamellar epithelium. All of these morphological changes in the gills contribute to a low increase of the respiratory surface area for gas exchange and an increase in the water–blood diffusion distance increasing their dependence on air-breathing as fish developed. The increased proliferation of MRCs may contribute to increased ion uptake, which favors the regulation of ion content and pH equilibrium. Anat Rec, 296:1664–1675, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.