Histological, histochemical and ultrastructural methods have been used to study the gut structure and digestive physiology in the parasitic nematode Cyathostomalari E. Banchard, 1849. The nematode is parasitic in the orbito-nasal sinuses of its host and feeds exclusively upon blood.
Three gland cells are present in the oesophagus, one in each sector. The two subventral gland ducts open into the lumen of the oesophagus at the level of the nerve ring, and the dorsal gland duct into the base of the buccal capsule. It is suggested that the latter gland may produce an anticoagulin, histolytic and/or haemolytic secretions, histochemically-inactive in situ. The intestine is syncytial, with no differentiation into secretory components, and its distal surface is provided with a prominent brush border of long microvilli.
A non-specific esterase, thought to originate in the oesophageal gland secretions, causes haemolysis of ingested erythrocytes. The major part of haemoglobin digestion is extracellular, partly by a process of contact digestion on the microvilli, initiated by the esterase, and the protein is then further broken down by an exopeptidase of the ‘leucine aminopeptidase’ type, and the products absorbed into the gastrodermis possibly with the aid of an acid phosphatase present on or in the microvilli. An insoluble iron-containing compound, which is not haematin, results from breakdown of the prosthetic group. A smaller proportion of haemoglobin is taken up by the gastrodermis and digested intracellularly by the action of lysosomal hydrolases. An endopeptidase and an acid phosphatase are present in the gastrodermis, possibly in sacs of GER which are suggested to be primary lysosomes and which fuse with the endocytosed heterophagosomes. The insoluble pigment haematin results from digestion within the heterolysosomes, and this gives rise to the iron-containing gastrodermal pigment granules. The products of extracellular digestion are absorbed by the gastrodermis where they are synthetized into lipid by a lipase, which probably resides in whorls of GER.
This investigation was supported in part by Research Grant AI 06295 of the United States Public Health Service. The final manuscript was prepared during the tenure of a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the British Egg Marketing Board. I wish to extend my gratitude to Dr J. B. Jennings for advice and encouragement throughout this work.