The mechanism, whereby histamine and serotonin increase the permeability of blood vessels, was studied in the rat by means of the electron microscope. The drugs were injected subcutaneously into the scrotum, whence they diffused into the underlying (striated) cremaster muscle. An intravenous injection of colloidal HgS was also given, in order to facilitate the identification of leaks by means of visible tracer particles. After intervals varying from 1 minute to 57 days the animals were killed; the cremaster was fixed, embedded in methacrylate, and examined with the electron microscope.
One to 12 minutes after the injection, the blood vessels of the smallest caliber (3 to 5 micra as measured on electron micrographs) appeared intact. Numerous endothelial openings were present in blood vessels with a diameter of 7 to 8 micra or more. These gaps were 0.1 to 0.8 micra in width; portions of intercellular junctions were often present in one or both of the margins. The underlying basement membrane was morphologically intact. An accumulation of tracer particles and chylomicra against the basement membrane indicated that the latter behaved as a filter, allowing fluid to escape but retaining and concentrating suspended particulate matter of the size used.
Uptake of tracer particles by endothelial vesicles was minimal. Phagocytosis by endothelial cells became more prominent at 3 hours, but as a secondary occurrence; the pericytes were actively phagocytic at all stages. At the 3-hour stage no leaks were found.
The changes induced by histamine and serotonin were indistinguishable, except that the latter was more potent on a mole-to-mole basis. In control animals only small accumulations of tracer particles were found in the wall of a number of blood vessels.
With regard to the pathogenesis of the endothelial leaks, the electron microscopic findings suggested that the endothelial cells become partially disconnected along the intercellular junctions. Supporting evidence was provided at the level of the light microscope, by demonstrating—in the same preparation—the leaks with appropriate tracer particles1, and the intercellular junctions by the silver nitrate method. The lipid nature of the chylomicron deposits observed in electron micrographs was also confirmed at the level of the light microscope, using cremasters fixed in formalin and stained in toto with sudan red.