A comparative anatomical and histological study on the presence of an apical splenic nerve in mice and humans

Cindy G. J. Cleypool, Claire Mackaaij, Suzanne A. M. W. Verlinde-Schellekens, Ronald L. A. W. Bleys

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The cranial pole of the mouse spleen is considered to be parasympathetically innervated by a macroscopic observable nerve referred to as the apical splenic nerve (ASN). Electrical stimulation of the ASN resulted in increased levels of splenic acetylcholine, decreased lipopolysaccharide-induced levels of systemic tumor necrosis factor alpha and mitigated clinical symptoms in a mouse model of rheumatoid arthritis. If such a discrete ASN would be present in humans, this structure is of interest as it might represent a relatively easily accessible electrical stimulation target to treat immune-mediated inflammatory diseases. So far, it is unknown if a human ASN equivalent exists. This study aimed to provide a detailed description of the location and course of the ASN in mice. Subsequently, this information was used for a guided exploration of an equivalent structure in humans. Microscopic techniques were applied to confirm nerve identity and compare ASN composition. Six mice and six human cadavers were used to study and compare the ASN, both macro- and microscopically. Macroscopic morphological characteristics of the ASN in both mice and humans were described and photographs were taken. ASN samples were resected, embedded in paraffin, cut in 5 μm thin sections where after adjacent sections were stained with a general, sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve marker, respectively. Neural identity and nerve fiber composition was then evaluated microscopically. Macroscopically, the ASN could be clearly identified in all mice and was running in the phrenicosplenic ligament connecting the diaphragm and apical pole of the spleen. If a phrenicosplenic ligament was present in humans, a similar configuration of potential neural structures was observed. Since the gastrosplenic ligament was a continuation of the phrenicosplenic ligament, this ligament was explored as well and contained white, potential discrete nerve-like structures as well which could represent an ANS equivalent. Microscopic evaluation of the ASN in mice and human showed that this structure did not represent a nerve, but most likely connective tissue strains. White nerve-like structures, which could represent the ASN, were macroscopically observed in the phrenicosplenic ligament in both mice and human and in the gastrosplenic ligament in humans. The microscopic investigation did not confirm their neural identity and therefore, this study disclaims the existence of a parasympathetic ASN in both mice and human.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)296-304
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of anatomy
Issue number2
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • apical splenic nerve
  • cholinergic anti inflammatory pathway
  • neuro immunemodulation
  • splenic innervation

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