Reason for performing study: Ultrastructural changes in the epithelium can provide information on early changes in barrier properties, repair and inflammation in equine colon after ischaemia and reperfusion (I/R).
Objectives: To describe the morphology and ultrastructure of the epithelium in equine large colonic mucosa after I/R, and the response of inflammatory cells to injury.
Methods: Ischaemia was induced for 1 h followed by 4 h of reperfusion in a 40 cm segment of the pelvic flexure in 6 horses. Mucosal biopsies before and after ischaemia, and after 1, 2 and 4 h of reperfusion were fixed in glutaraldehyde/paraformaldehyde and osmium tetroxide, and embedded in epon. Morphological and ultrastructural changes were evaluated in toluidine blue-stained semithin sections by light microscopy and in thin sections stained with uranyl acetate/lead citrate by transmission electron microscopy.
Results: Ischaemia caused swelling of epithelial cells and their organelles, opening of tight junctions, detachment from the basement membrane, early apoptosis and single cell necrosis. Autophagy was a prominent feature in epithelial cells after ischaemia. Reperfusion was characterised by apoptosis, epithelial regeneration and restoration of apical cell junctions. Phagocytic-like vacuoles containing cellular debris and bacteria were evident in epithelial cells after reperfusion. Paracellular and subepithelial clefts formed, accompanied by infiltration of neutrophils, lymphocytes and eosinophils into the epithelium. Subepithelial macrophages and luminal neutrophils had increased phagocytic activity.
Conclusions: Ischaemia caused ultrastructural damage to the colonic epithelium, but epithelial cells recovered during reperfusion.
Potential relevance: Transmission electron microscopy can demonstrate subtle ultrastructural damage to epithelial cells and evidence of recovery after I/R in equine colon.