Comparative ultrastructure and cytochemistry of the avian pineal organ

Zsolt Fejér, Pál Röhlich, Ágoston Szél, Csaba Dávid, Anita Zádori, Maria João Manzano, Béla Vígh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

21 Citations (Scopus)


The breeding of birds is expected to solve problems of nourishment for the growing human population. The function of the pineal organ synchronizing sexual activity and environmental light periods is important for successful reproduction. Comparative morphology of the avian pineal completes data furnished by experiments on some frequently used laboratory animals about the functional organization of the organ. According to comparative histological data, the pineal of vertebrates is originally a double organ (the "third" and the "fourth eye"). One of them often lies extracranially, perceiving direct solar radiation, and the other, located intracranially, is supposed to measure diffuse brightness of the environment. Birds have only a single pineal, presumably originating from the intracranial pineal of lower vertebrates. Developing from the epithalamus, the avian pineal organ histologically seems not to be a simple gland ("pineal gland") but a complex part of the brain composed of various pinealocytes and neurons that are embedded in an ependymal/glial network. In contrast to organs of "directional view" that develop large photoreceptor outer segments (retina, parietal pineal eye of reptiles) in order to decode two-dimensional images of the environment, the "densitometer"-like pineal organ seems to increase their photoreceptor membrane content by multiplying the number of photoreceptor perikarya and developing follicle-like foldings of its wall during evolution ("folded retina"). Photoreceptor membranes of avian pinealocytes can be stained by antibodies against various photoreceptor-specific compounds, among others, opsins, including pineal opsins. Photoreceptors immunoreacting with antibodies to chicken pinopsin were also found in the reptilian pineal organ. Similar to cones and rods representing the first neurons of the retina in the lateral eye, pinealocytes of birds posses an axonal effector process which terminates on the vascular surface of the organ as a neurohormonal ending, or forms ribbon-containing synapses on pineal neurons. Serotonin is detectable immunocytochemically on the granular vesicles accumulated in neurohormonal terminals. Pinealocytic perikarya and axon terminals also bind immunocytochemically recognizable excitatory amino acids. Peripheral autonomic fibers entering the pineal organ through its meningeal cover terminate near blood vessels. Being vasomotor fibers, they presumably regulate the blood supply of the pineal tissue according to the different levels of light-dependent pineal cell activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-24
Number of pages13
JournalMicroscopy Research and Technique
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2001



  • Afferentation
  • Calcification
  • Hormonal and neural efferentation
  • Opsins
  • Photoreceptors
  • Retina

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology
  • Instrumentation
  • Medical Laboratory Technology

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