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Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2002 Jun;126(6):692-6.

Altered cytoskeleton in smooth muscle of aganglionic bowel.

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Children's Research Centre, Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Dublin, Ireland.



Intestinal motility is under the control of smooth muscle cells, enteric plexus, and hormonal factors. In Hirschsprung disease (HD), the aganglionic colon remains spastic or tonically enhanced and unable to relax. The smooth muscle cell's cytoskeleton consists of proteins or structures whose primary function is to link or connect protein filaments to each other or to the anchoring sites. Dystrophin is a subsarcolemmal protein with a double adhesion property, one between the membrane elements and the contractile filaments of the cytoskeleton and the other between the cytoskeletal proteins and the extracellular matrix. Desmin and vinculin are functionally related proteins that are present in the membrane-associated dense bodies in the sarcolemma of the smooth muscle cells.


To examine the distribution of the cytoskeletal proteins in the smooth muscle of the aganglionic bowel.


Bowel specimens from ganglionic and aganglionic sections of the colon were collected at the time of pull-through surgery from 8 patients with HD. Colon specimens collected from 4 patients at the time of bladder augmentation acted as controls. Anti-dystrophin, anti-desmin, and anti-vinculin antibodies were used for fluorescein immunostaining using confocal laser scanning microscopy.


Moderate to strong dystrophin immunoreactivity was observed at the periphery of smooth muscle fibers in normal bowel and ganglionic bowel from patients with HD, whereas dystrophin immunoreactivity was either absent or weak in the smooth muscle of aganglionic colon. Moderate to strong cytoplasmic immunostaining for vinculin and desmin was seen in the smooth muscle of normal bowel and ganglionic bowel from patients with HD, whereas vinculin and desmin staining in the aganglionic colon was absent or weak.


This study demonstrates that the cytoskeletal proteins are abundant in the smooth muscle of normal bowel, but are absent or markedly reduced in the aganglionic bowel of HD. As cytoskeletal proteins are required for the coordinated contraction of muscle cells, their absence may be responsible for the motility dysfunction in the aganglionic segment.

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