Local cutaneous water barrier in cold- and heat-acclimated pigeons (Columba livia) in relation to cutaneous water evaporation

Naoko Kawamura, Y. Arieli, R. Harjula, A. Py-rnil-, J. Marder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The thermoregulatory function of the skin differs in adult cold-acclimated and heat-acclimated rock pigeons (Columba livia). In general, the cutaneous evaporative cooling mechanism is not activated by appropriate stimuli in cold-acclimated pigeons in contrast to heat-acclimated pigeons. We studied with electron microscopy whether the differences in the function of the skin are reflected in the structure of the epidermal water barrier of these two extreme acclimation states. The epidermis of cold-acclimated pigeons is attenuated, and the underlying dermis lacks any intimate vascularization. Both the extracellular and the intracellular domains in the stratum corneum contain organized lamellar lipids. At the stratum transitivum-stratum corneum interface, multigranular body secretion is indicated by the highly convoluted cell membranes and membraneous sacculae enclosing the multigranular bodies. Alternatively, multigranular bodies retain in the corneocytes, and the lipoid material originated from them is reprocessed to broad lamellae. The keratohyalin (KH) granules are spotlike and oriented as cortical bands beneath the plasma membrane. In heat-acclimated pigeons, the epidermis displays modified patches side by side with basic structural type of epidermis. The modified areas are characterized by hypertrophy and abundance of dermal capillaries adjacent to the hypertrophied patch. No lamellar lipids are discerned in the dilated extracellular space. The structure of multigranular bodies is abnormal, and the numbers of lipid droplets in the outer viable epidermis and stratum corneum are decreased. The transitional cells contain stellate KH granules, which form a network throughout the cell. It is concluded that cold-acclimated pigeons have a lamellar, extracellular water barrier, the cutaneous water evaporation is minimized, and heat is stored in the body core. Acclimation to heat leads to formation of structurally heterogeneous skin. The structurally modified skin patches show disruption of the barrier-forming machinery in the multigranular bodies and marked reorganization of fibrillar proteins and electron-dense KH masses in the transitional layer. Thus water barrier adjustments in cold- and heat-acclimated pigeons manifest the dynamic function of avian skin as a thermoregulatory organ. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-130
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Morphology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Acclimation
  • Birds
  • Epidermis
  • Thermoregulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Developmental Biology


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