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Histol Histopathol. 1996 Jul;11(3):769-86.

Identification of the interstitial cells of Cajal.

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  • 1Department of Basic Human Sciences, Waseda University School of Human Sciences, Saitama, Japan.


Observation of whole mount stretch preparations using the zinc-iodide-osmic acid method reveals a wide variety of interstitial cells in different tissue layers of the guinea-pig small intestine. And a subsequent electron-microscopic examination and survey of references makes clear that the interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) depicted in original drawings of Cajal are heterogeneous and correspond to different types of interstitial cells. The myenteric ICC are characterized by long dichotomous branching processes which constitute cellular networks independent from the nerve plexus and form many gap junctions at their tips. Their ultrastructure is similar to that of fibroblasts and they have no basal lamina. The myenteric ICC show strong immunoreactivity for vimentin and the c-kit receptor, and probably correspond to the intestinal pacemaker cells. Within the circular muscle layer, ICC are represented by the cells that are closely associated with fine nerve bundles. The ICC have various shapes, ranging from bipolar to stellate, depending on the running pattern of the nerve fibers that they are associated with. They show fibroblast-like ultrastructure and have no basal lamina. They form gap junctions with smooth muscle cells and are immunoreactive for vimentin. On the other hand, ICC associated with the deep muscular plexus described in the guinea-pig by Cajal could not be clearly identified. However, it is suggested that the ICC in this location may correspond to glycogen-rich cells possessing a basal lamina. Although they show a fairly well-developed rough endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus and immunoreactivity for vimentin, ICC of the deep muscular plexus are probably specialized smooth muscle cells in nature.

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