1999 Volume 62 Issue 3 Pages 219-229
The synovial membrane displays a superficial cellular lining composed of two types of synoviocytes: “absorptive” macrophages (type A cells) and “secretory” fibroblast-like cells (type B cells). The types are intermingled and extend a variety of processes, rendering the cellular architecture of the synovial membrane difficult to visualize. Previous electron microscopic and histochemical studies failed to demonstrate the entire shape of synoviocytes, except our immunohistochemical study for protein gene product 9.5 in the horse joint. The present SEM study is the first to demonstrate the three-dimensional ultrastructure of synoviocytes as well as their distribution in the synovial membrane, using macerated samples from the horse carpal joints. The equine synovial membrane was largely covered by conspicuously developed synovial villi. Type A synoviocytes were closely similar to macrophages in regard to surface structure, and showed uneven distribution with the densest occurrence around the tips of the synovial villi. In the basal half of villi, type B synoviocytes, which were situated in close proximity to the synovial cavity, projected thick processes horizontally and intertwined to form a regular network of processes on the synovial surface. Those in the upper half of the villi were located in the abluminal layers and protruded an antenna-like process into the joint cavity with tips covered with long microvilli, in addition to forming the superficial plexus of processes. Type B cells were also provided with fine, membranous extensions that tended to cover the surface of synovial intima. The meshwork of horizontal processes, the antenna-like processes, and the membranous processes imply advantages in not only secretion but also sensation and regulation of the barrier function in the synovial membrane.