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Cell Tissue Res. 1999 Feb;295(2):247-56.

Intimate relationship between interstitial cells of cajal and enteric nerves in the guinea-pig small intestine.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, University of Nevada School of Medicine, Reno, NV 89557, USA.


Recent studies have suggested that enteric inhibitory neurotransmission is mediated via interstitial cells of Cajal in some gastrointestinal tissues. This study describes the physical relationships between enteric neurons and interstitial cells of Cajal in the deep muscular plexus (IC-DMP) of the guinea-pig small intestine. c-Kit and vimentin were colocalized in the cell bodies and fine cellular processes of interstitial cells of the deep muscular plexus. Anti-vimentin antibodies were subsequently used to examine the relationships of interstitial cells with inhibitory motor neurons (as identified by nitric oxide synthase-like immunoreactivity) and excitatory motor neurons (using substance P-like immunoreactivity). Neurons with nitric oxide synthase- and substance P-like immunoreactivities were closely associated with the cell bodies of interstitial cells and ramified along their processes for distances greater than 300 micrometer. With transmission electron microscopy, we noted close relationships between interstitial cells and the nitric oxide synthase- and substance P-like immunoreactive axonal varicosities. Varicosities of nitric oxide synthase and substance P neurons were found as close as 20 and 25 nm from interstitial cells, respectively. Specialized junctions with increased electron density of pre- and postsynaptic membranes were observed at close contact points between nitric oxide synthase- and substance P-like immunoreactive neurons and interstitial cells. Close structural relationships (approximately 25 nm) were also occasionally observed between either nitric oxide synthase- and substance P-like immunoreactive varicosities and smooth muscle cells of the outer circular muscle layer. The data suggest that interstitial cells in the deep muscle plexus are heavily innervated by excitatory and inhibitory enteric motor neurons. Thus, these interstitial cells may provide an important, but probably not exclusive, pathway for nerve-muscle communication in the small intestine.

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