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Neuroscience. 2008 Mar 18;152(2):437-48. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2007.12.044. Epub 2008 Jan 12.

Interstitial cells of Cajal are innervated by nitrergic nerves and express nitric oxide-sensitive guanylate cyclase in the guinea-pig gastrointestinal tract.

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  • 1Department of Morphological and Physiological Sciences, University of Fukui Faculty of Medical Sciences, Eiheiji, Fukui 910-1193, Japan.


Nitric oxide (NO) is a major signaling molecule in the gastrointestinal tract, and released NO inhibits muscular contraction. The actions of NO are mediated by stimulation of soluble guanylate cyclase (sGC, NO-sensitive GC) and a subsequent increase in cGMP concentration. To elucidate NO targets in the gastrointestinal musculature, we investigated the immunohistochemical localization of the beta1 and alpha1 subunits of sGC and the distribution of neuronal NO synthase (nNOS) -containing nerves in the guinea-pig gastrointestinal tract. Distinct immunoreactivity for sGCbeta1 and sGCalpha1 was observed in the interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC), fibroblast-like cells (FLC) and enteric neurons in the musculature. Double immunohistochemistry using anti-c-Kit antibody and anti-sGCbeta1 antibody revealed sGCbeta1 immunoreactivity in almost all intramuscular ICC throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract. Immunoelectron microscopy revealed that sGCbeta1-immunopositive cells possessed some of the criteria for intramuscular ICC: presence of caveolae; frequently associated with nerve bundles; and close contact with smooth muscle cells. sGCbeta1-immunopositive ICC were closely apposed to nNOS-containing nerve fibers in the muscle layers. Immunohistochemical and immunoelectron microscopical observations revealed that FLC in the musculature also showed sGCbeta1 immunoreactivity. FLC were often associated with nNOS-immunopositive nerve fibers. In the myenteric layer, almost all myenteric ganglia contained nNOS-immunopositive nerve cells and were surrounded by myenteric ICC and FLC. Myenteric ICC in the large intestine and FLC in the entire gastrointestinal tract showed sGCbeta1 immunoreactivity in the myenteric layer. Smooth muscle cells in the stomach and colon showed weak sGCbeta1 immunoreactivity, and those in the muscularis mucosae and vasculature also showed evident immunoreactivity. These data suggest that ICC are primary targets for NO released from nNOS-containing enteric neurons, and that some NO signals are received by FLC and smooth muscle cells in the gastrointestinal tract.

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