Parafollicular cells (PC) of the sheep thyroid gland are neural crest derivatives that synthesize and release the biogenic amine serotonin (5-HT) as well as the hormone calcitonin. The thyroid also contains a highly specific serotonin-binding protein (SBP). Separation of dissociated thyroid cells was done to study the cellular localization of SBP and to develop a means of isolating PC for study. Various methods were used to obtain an enriched and purified population of PC. Minced thyroid glands were enzymatically dissociated and the cells were layered on a Ficoll linear density gradient. Fractions obtained from the gradient were examined for cell number, viability, 5-HT concentration, SBP activity, and morphology by electron microscopy. One of the fractions was found to be enriched in PC. High levels of 5-HT and SBP were also found in this fraction, whereas these levels were low where the majority of cells were found. This PC-rich fraction, however, contained numerous follicular cells (FC); therefore, additional approaches to cell separation were used. FC can be stimulated in vitro with thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to become intensely phagocytic. When stimulated cells were incubated in the presence of silica microspheres, the FC engulfed the microspheres, which were toxic to them. PC did not become phagocytic and were unharmed by the microspheres. Suspended cells, after incubation with microspheres, were centrifuged on a discontinuous gradient, and a PC-rich fraction was obtained. Silica, however, interfered with analysis of SBP. Another method to take advantage of the phagocytic potential of FC was therefore used. TSH-stimulated cell suspensions were passed through a column of sepharose to which thyroglobulin had been coupled. Stimulated FC apparently adhered to the beads and were retained by the columns. Fractions eluting from the columns were greatly enriched with PC. These fractions contained high levels of 5-HT and SBP, and considerably reduced FC contamination was found by quantitative electron microscopy. It is concluded that SBP is localized to PC in the sheep thyroid. The idea that these cells resemble serotonergic neurons in their mechanisms of 5-HT storage is supported.

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