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Cell Tissue Res. 2003 Nov;314(2):179-89. Epub 2003 Sep 26.

Expression of intermediate conductance potassium channel immunoreactivity in neurons and epithelial cells of the rat gastrointestinal tract.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology and Centre for Neuroscience, University of Melbourne, 3010 Parkville, Victoria, Australia.


Recent functional evidence suggests that intermediate conductance calcium-activated potassium channels (IK channels) occur in neurons in the small intestine and in mucosal epithelial cells in the colon. This study was undertaken to investigate whether IK channel immunoreactivity occurs at these and at other sites in the gastrointestinal tract of the rat. IK channel immunoreactivity was found in nerve cell bodies throughout the gastrointestinal tract, from the esophagus to the rectum. It was revealed in the initial segments of the axons, but not in axon terminals. The majority of immunoreactive neurons had Dogiel type II morphology and in the myenteric plexus of the ileum all immunoreactive neurons were of this shape. Intrinsic primary afferent neurons in the rat small intestine are Dogiel type II neurons that are immunoreactive for calretinin, and it was found that almost all the IK channel immunoreactive neurons were also calretinin immunoreactive. IK channel immunoreactivity also occurred in calretinin-immunoreactive, Dogiel type II neurons in the caecum. Epithelial cells of the mucosal lining were immunoreactive in the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines. In the intestines, the immunoreactivity occurred in transporting enterocytes, but not in mucous cells. Immunoreactivity was at both the apical and basolateral surfaces. A small proportion of mucosal endocrine cells was immunoreactive in the duodenum, ileum and caecum, but not in the stomach, proximal colon, distal colon or rectum. There was immunoreactivity of vascular endothelial cells. It is concluded that IK channels are located on cell bodies and proximal parts of axons of intrinsic primary afferent neurons, where, from functional studies, they would be predicted to lower neuronal excitability when opened in response to calcium entry. In the mucosa of the small and large intestine, IK channels are probably involved in control of potassium exchange, and in the esophageal and gastric mucosa they are possibly involved in control of cell volume in response to osmotic challenge.

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