File:Parathyroid histology 002.jpg

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Parathyroid Histology

Human parathyroid gland H&E

The parathyroid glands are four small oval bodies located at the posterior surface of the thyroid gland (close to the middle and inferior ends of the lateral thyroid lobes - but a bit variable; the inferior pair may actually be located in the mediastinum).

  • These glands are small (about 130 mg) but essential for life.
  • Each parathyroid gland is surrounded by a thin connective tissue capsule.
  • Parenchymal cells are arranged in anastomosing chords surrounded by delicate connective tissue septa.
  • Capillaries are abundant.
  • A considerable number of fat cells infiltrate the gland (beginning around puberty) and may account for about half the weight of the parathyroid glands in adults.

Two cell types can be distinguished in the parathyroid glands:

  1. Chief cells are the most numerous type. They are rather small, a round, light and centrally placed nucleus and a very weakly acidophilic cytoplasm. They synthesise parathyroid hormone (PTH or parathormone) which is of pivotal importance for normal calcium concentrations in the fluids and tissues of the body. The effect is mediated by a stimulation of osteoclastic bone resorption, intestinal calcium uptake and calcium resorption in the kidneys. If the parathyroid glands are removed completely, calcium concentrations decrease rapidly, leading to tetany within 2-3 days and eventually death if left untreated.
  1. Oxyphilic cells are less frequent (entirely lacking in small children; occurring first in children six to seven years old and afterwards increasing in number with age - funny enough they have so far only been demonstrated in Rhesus monkey, the ox and, of course, humans). Their cytoplasm is strongly acidophilic, the nucleus is small and uniformly intense basophilic. They contain large amounts of mitochondria.

There are plenty of transitional cells, i.e. cells that morphologically represent transitions between chief cells and oxyphilic cells.

Both the release of calcitonin by C cells in the thyroid gland and the release of parathyroid hormone are regulated by negative feedback from blood calcium concentrations.

Links: Endocrine - Parathyroid Development

Links: Histology | Histology Stains | Blue Histology images copyright Lutz Slomianka 1998-2009. The literary and artistic works on the original Blue Histology website may be reproduced, adapted, published and distributed for non-commercial purposes. See also the page Histology Stains.

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2024, May 20) Embryology Parathyroid histology 002.jpg. Retrieved from

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© Dr Mark Hill 2024, UNSW Embryology ISBN: 978 0 7334 2609 4 - UNSW CRICOS Provider Code No. 00098G

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