The chief morphological criterion for classifying parathyroid glands as 'normal', 'suppressed', or 'activated' is the lipid content of the cytoplasm. In particular, cytoplasm lipid deposit is scanty in the active parathyroid cell, according to many authors. In this paper we present the results of a morphometrical study of ten normal parathyroid glands from patients undergoing thyroidectomy, 20 enlarged 'adenomatous' glands from patients with primary hyperparathyroidism, and 20 glands of normal size from the same hyperparathyroid patients. We aimed at assessing the content of intracytoplasmic lipid of secretory cells in all these conditions. The results show that secretory cells of adenomatous glands have less lipid than those from normal glands; however, there was considerable overlapping of the data in the two groups. The mean lipid content of cells in glands of normal size taken from hyperparathyroid patients was not significantly different from the mean value of normal cells, even when ultrastructural evidence of activation was present in the former. These data suggest that caution has to be exercised in assessing the functional status of parathyroid glands on the basis of lipid content of secretory cells, mainly when differentiating between adenoma and hyperplasia.
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