Metamorphosis of the olfactory organ of the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus L.): Morphological changes and morphometric analysis

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Morphology





First Page


Last Page





In larval sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus), a small, relatively inconspicuous olfactory organ sac contains small, densely packed olfactory receptor neurons and sustentacular cells. During metamorphosis, the larval organ transforms into a prominent lamellar structure with large distinct olfactory epithelial cells that is characteristic of the adult lamprey. In the present study, scanning electron microscopy and light microscopy are used to examine changes during the seven stages (1–7) of metamorphosis. The magnitude of growth over the course of metamorphosis is evident from the doubling of the relative weight of the nasal sac. During early metamorphosis (stages 1 and 2), the larval olfactory organ enlarges, and by stage 3 specific adult structures begin to form, namely a nasal valve between the nasal tube and the organ, lamellar folds, and diverticuli of the accessory olfactory organ. Subsequent development involves widening of the cells lining the lamellar folds to the form characteristic of postmetamorphic lampreys. Although the cells in the troughs initially retain numerical density values that are significantly higher than those on the lamellar surfaces, by stage 7 values decline both in troughs and along lamellar surfaces to those observed in adults. These results show that although expansion of the olfactory organ is ongoing throughout metamorphosis, remodeling occurs early (by stage 3). This timing provides space for extensive olfactory receptor neuron neurogenesis and differentiation and correlates with the transformation of some organs that were previously examined. This is the first report in any species of olfactory receptor neuron zonation based on morphometric characteristics. J. Morphol. 231:41–52, 1997. © 1997 Wiley-Liss, Inc.