The structure and the mineralization of the scales of the living dipnoan (lungfish) Protoptems annectens have been investigated by transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The thin and imbricated scales are composed of two layers: the squamulae and the basal plate. At the outer surface, the squamulae form isolated plates superficially ornamented with spines and concretions and made up of acellular bone. After demineralization, the squamulae show a heterogeneous organic matrix composed of thin randomly oriented collagen fibrils forming a loose network within which the concretions appear as electronlucent circular areas. Abundant and aggregated concretions are located within the spines. The crystallites are oriented by the collagen fibrils except in the concretions. Anchoring bundles composed of parallel collagen fibrils arise from the squamulae and connect the scales to the overlying dermis.
The basal plate, the most developed part of the scale, is made up of isopedine. Its main component consists of thick, closely packed collagen fibrils organized in a ‘double twisted plywood-like structure’. Fibroblasts are present in the basal plate. Mineralization occurs only in few plies located beneath the squamulae. Mandl's corpuscles are found in front of the mineralization front. The mineral deposit is oriented by the collagen fibrils.
The scales of Protoptems annectens differ from the typical elasmoid scales of the teleosts by the peculiar structure of the squamulae, nevertheless they show enough structural characteristics to support the hypothesis that they can be considered as scales of the elasmoid grade, which have retained some plesiomorphic characteristics.