• Liver;
  • Sinusoid;
  • Phagocytosis;
  • Endocytosis;
  • Host defense


Kupffer cells are macrophages that are attached to the luminal surface or inserted in the endothelial lining of hepatic sinusoids. In this site, Kupffer cells play a key role in host defense by removing foreign, toxic and infective substances from the portal blood and by releasing beneficial mediators. Under some conditions, toxic and vasoactive substances also are released from Kupffer cells which are thought to play a role in a variety of liver diseases. Many of these activities may be modulated by the levels of gut derived endotoxin normally present in the portal blood.

The ultrastructural aspects of Kupffer cell structure function in situ are best studied using perfused-fixed livers. In fixed livers, transmission and scanning electron microscopy reveal Kupffer cells during health to be irregular in shape with their exposed surfaces presenting numerous microvilli, filopodia, and lamellopodia. Long filopodia penetrate endothelial fenestrae to secure Kupffer cells to the sinusoid lining. Specific membrane invaginations known as worm-like bodies or vermiform processes are seen in the cytoplasm of Kupffer cells as are numerous endocytotic vesicles and lysosomes which vary in density, shape and size. Sometimes, annulate lamellae connected to the rough endoplasmic reticulum also are found. The principal endocytic mechanisms of Kupffer cells are phagocytosis of particulates and cells, and bristle-coated micropinocytosis for fluid-phase endocytosis of smaller substances. Many of these events are mediated by specific receptors. In some species, Kupffer cells can be distinguished from other sinusoidal lining cells and monocytes by specific cytoplasmic staining or monoclonal antibodies. Kupffer cells have been shown to be of monocytic origin as well as having the capacity for self-replication.