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Annu Rev Physiol. 1999;61:19-43.

Cellular and molecular basis for electrical rhythmicity in gastrointestinal muscles.

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University of Nevada School of Medicine, Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, Reno 89557, USA.


Regulation of gastrointestinal (GI) motility is intimately coordinated with the modulation of ionic conductance expressed in GI smooth muscle and nonmuscle cells. Interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) act as pacemaker cells and possess unique ionic conductances that trigger slow wave activity in these cells. The slow wave mechanism is an exclusive feature of ICC: Smooth muscle cells may lack the basic ionic mechanisms necessary to generate or regenerate slow waves. The molecular identification of the components for these conductances provides the foundation for a complete understanding of the ionic basis for GI motility. In addition, this information will provide a basis for the identification or development of therapeutics that might act on these channels. It is much easier to study these conductances and develop blocking drugs in expression systems than in native GI muscle cells. This review focuses on the relationship between ionic currents in native GI smooth muscle cells and ICC and their molecular counterparts.

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