Parafollicular cell

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Parafollicular cell
Code TH H3.
Anatomical terminology

Parafollicular cells (also called C cells) are neuroendocrine cells in the thyroid with primary function to secrete calcitonin. They are located adjacent to the thyroid follicles and reside in the connective tissue. These cells are large and have a pale stain compared with the follicular cells or colloid. In teleost and avian species these cells occupy a structure outside of the thyroid gland named the ultimobranchial body.

Parafollicular cells themselves are derived from neural crest cells. Embryologically, they associate with the ultimobranchial body, which itself is a ventral derivative of the fourth (or fifth) pharyngeal pouch. In a series of experiments, Nicole LeDouarin transplanted neural crest cells from quail, with unique and easily identified nuclei, into non-quail neural crest. She subsequently demonstrated the presence of cells with quail nuclei populating the ultimobranchial body and concluded that C cells migrate during embryologic development from the neural crest.[1][2]

They are not numerous in the thyroid and are typically situated basally in the epithelium, without direct contact with the follicular lumen. They are always situated within the basement membrane, which surrounds the entire follicle.

Parafollicular cell are also known to secrete in smaller quantities several neuroendocrine peptides such as serotonin, somatostatin or CGRP.[3][4][5] They may also have a paracrine role in regulating thyroid hormones production, as they express TRH.[6][7]

When parafollicular cells become cancerous, they lead to medullary carcinoma of the thyroid.


  • Baber EC: Contributions to the minute anatomy of the thyroid gland of the dog. Phil Trans R Soc 166 (1876) 557-568 (full text)


  1. ^ Le Douarin, N; Fontaine, J; Le Lièvre, C (Mar 13, 1974). "New studies on the neural crest origin of the avian ultimobranchial glandular cells--interspecific combinations and cytochemical characterization of C cells based on the uptake of biogenic amine precursors.". Histochemistry 38 (4): 297–305. doi:10.1007/bf00496718. PMID 4135055. 
  2. ^ Barasch, J; Gershon, MD; Nunez, EA; Tamir, H; al-Awqati, Q (December 1988). "Thyrotropin induces the acidification of the secretory granules of parafollicular cells by increasing the chloride conductance of the granular membrane.". The Journal of Cell Biology 107 (6 Pt 1): 2137–47. doi:10.1083/jcb.107.6.2137. PMID 2461947. 
  3. ^ Zabel, M (December 1984). "Ultrastructural localization of calcitonin, somatostatin and serotonin in parafollicular cells of rat thyroid.". The Histochemical journal 16 (12): 1265–72. doi:10.1007/bf01003725. PMID 6152264. 
  4. ^ Barasch, JM; Mackey, H; Tamir, H; Nunez, EA; Gershon, MD (September 1987). "Induction of a neural phenotype in a serotonergic endocrine cell derived from the neural crest.". The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience 7 (9): 2874–83. PMID 3305802. 
  5. ^ Bernd, P; Gershon, MD; Nunez, EA; Tamir, H (March 1981). "Separation of dissociated thyroid follicular and parafollicular cells: association of serotonin binding protein with parafollicular cells.". The Journal of Cell Biology 88 (3): 499–508. doi:10.1083/jcb.88.3.499. PMID 7217200. 
  6. ^ Gkonos, PJ; Tavianini, MA; Liu, CC; Roos, BA (December 1989). "Thyrotropin-releasing hormone gene expression in normal thyroid parafollicular cells.". Molecular endocrinology (Baltimore, Md.) 3 (12): 2101–9. doi:10.1210/mend-3-12-2101. PMID 2516877. 
  7. ^ Morillo-Bernal, Jesús; Fernández-Santos, José M.; Utrilla, José C.; de Miguel, Manuel; García-Marín, Rocío; Martín-Lacave, Inés (1 August 2009). "Functional expression of the thyrotropin receptor in C cells: new insights into their involvement in the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis". Journal of Anatomy 215 (2): 150–158. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7580.2009.01095.x. PMC 2740962. PMID 19493188. 

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