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J Physiol. 2006 Nov 1;576(Pt 3):653-8. Epub 2006 Aug 17.

Structure and organization of interstitial cells of Cajal in the gastrointestinal tract.

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  • 1School of Human Sciences, Waseda University, Mikajima 2-579-15, Tokorozawa, Saitama, Japan 359-1192, USA.


The morphological features of interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract are described based on observations of laboratory animals including mice, rats and guinea-pigs, using immunohistochemical staining for Kit and electron microscopy. ICC show a specific distribution, arrangement and cell shape depending on their location within various regions and tissue layers of the GI tract. Hence they are classified into several subtypes. The stomach shows distinct regional variations in the distribution of subtypes of ICC from the cardia to pylorus, whereas the small intestine and colon both seem to retain nearly the same distribution pattern of subtypes of ICC throughout each organ. All subtypes of ICC share common ultrastructural features, such as the presence of numerous mitochondria, abundant intermediate filaments, and formation of gap junctions with the same type of cells and with smooth muscle cells. In addition, depending on their species and anatomical location, some subtypes of ICC show some features typical of smooth muscle cells including a basal lamina, caveolae, subsurface cisterns and dense bodies. ICC are somewhat heterogeneous morphologically. A question is raised on a special relationship between their ultrastructural features and dependency on Kit/stem cell factor system. As the neuromediator function of ICC, reciprocal distribution of ICC and gap junctions in the muscle coat is demonstrated by the comparison of Kit immunoreactive cells and gap junction protein connexin 43 in both small intestine and colon.

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