Stereological analysis of hepatic fine structure in Fischer 344 male rats at 1, 6, 10, 16, 20, 25, and 30 mo of age revealed differences in the amounts and distributions of hepatocellular organelles as a function of sublobular location or animal age. Between 1 and 16 mo of age, both the centrolobular and periportal hepatocytes increased in volume by 65 and 35%, respectively. Subsequently, the cell volumes declined until the hepatocytes of 30-mo-old rats approached the size of those found in the youngest animals. Regardless of animal age, the centrolobular cells were consistently larger than the corresponding periportal hepatocytes. The cytoplasmic and ground substance compartments reflected similar changes in their volumes, although there was no significant alteration in the nuclear volume. The volumes of the mitochondrial and microbody compartments increased and decreased concomitant with the changes in average hepatocyte size. Both lobular zones in the 30-mo-old rats contained significantly smaller relative volumes of mitochondria than similar parenchyma in 16-mo-old animals. The volume density of the dense bodies (lysosomes) increased markedly in both lobular zones between 1 and 30 mo of age, confirming reports of an age-dependent increase in this organelle. The surface area of the endoplasmic reticulum in the centrolobular and periportal hepatocytes reached its maximum level in the 10-mo-old rats and subsequently declined to amounts which approximated those measured in the 1-mo-old animals. This age-related loss of intracellular membrane is attributable to a significant reduction in the surface area of the smooth-surfaced endoplasmic reticulum (SER) in animals beyond 16 mo of age. The amount of rough-surfaced endoplasmic reticulum (RER) in the periportal parenchymal cells was unaffected by aging, but the centrolobular hepatocytes of 30-mo-old animals contained 90% more RER than similar cells in the youngest rats. The centrolobular parenchyma contained more SER and the portal zones more RER throughout the age span studied. These quantitative data suggest that (a) certain hepatic fine structural parameters undergo marked changes as a function of animal age, (b) there exists a gradient in hepatocellular fine structure across the entire liver lobule, and (c) there are remarkable similarities in hepatocyte ultrastructure between very young and senescent animals, including cell size and the amount of SER.

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