Comparisons of Stereological and Other Approaches for Quantifying Macrophage Aggregates in Piscine Spleens

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Macrophage aggregates (MAs) are focal accumulations of pigmented macrophages in the spleen and other tissues of fish. A central role of MAs is the clearance and destruction of degenerating cells and recycling of some cellular components. Macrophage aggregates also respond to chemical contaminants and infectious agents and may play a role in the adaptive immune response. Tissue damage or physiological stress can result in increased MA accumulation. As a result, MAs may be sensitive biomarkers of environmental stress in fish. Abundance of MAs in tissues has been reported in a variety of ways—most commonly as density, mean size, and relative area—but the utility of these estimates has not been compared. In this study, four different types of splenic MA abundance estimates (abundance score, density, relative area, and total volume) were compared in two fish populations (Striped Bass Morone saxatilis and White Perch M. americana) with a wide range in ages. Stereological estimates of total volume indicated an increase in MA abundance with spleen volume, which generally corresponded to fish age, and with splenic infections (mycobacteria or trematode parasites). Abundance scores were generally limited in the ability to detect changes in MA abundance by these factors, whereas density estimates were greatly influenced by changes in spleen volume. In some instances, densities declined while the total volume of MAs and spleen volume increased. Experimentally induced acute stress resulted in a decrease in spleen volume and an increase in MA density, although the total volume of MAs remained unchanged. Relative area estimates accounted for the size and number of MAs but not for changes in organ volume. Total volume is an absolute measure of MA abundance irrespective of changes in organ volume or patterns of accumulation and may provide an improved means of quantifying MAs in the spleens of fish.




Matsche, M. A., Blazer, V. S., & Mazik, P. M. (2019). Comparisons of Stereological and Other Approaches for Quantifying Macrophage Aggregates in Piscine Spleens. Journal of Aquatic Animal Health, 31(4), 328–348.

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