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Keywords:

  • NK-1 receptor;
  • NOS;
  • calbindin;
  • calretinin;
  • neurofilament-M;
  • immunoreactivity;
  • enteric nervous system

Abstract

Characterization of the enteric neurons is vital for understanding their physiological role. We have used single and dual label fluorescence and peroxidase-based immunohistochemistry in myenteric and submucosal whole mounts from the rat small intestine to evaluate the morphology and distribution of enteric neurons immunoreactive for the following phenotypic antigens: neuronal nitric oxide synthase (NOS), neurokinin-1 receptor (NK-1R), calretinin (Calr), calbindin (Cal), and neurofilament-M (NF-M). NOS-immunoreactive neurons had Dogiel type I morphology, were abundant in the myenteric plexus compared to the submucosal plexus, and never coexpressed NK-1R immunoreactivity. NK-1R- and Calr-immunoreactive neurons had Dogiel type II morphology and were distributed comparably in both plexuses. NK-1R and Calr-immunoreactivity were coexpressed in many of the same neurons. Calbindin-immunoreactive neurons exhibited four distinct morphologies: small and large Dogiel type II neurons, Dogiel type I neurons, and small elongated neurons. These neurons were significantly fewer in number in the myenteric plexus compared to the submucosal plexus. Neurofilament-M-immunoreactive neurons had three morphologies, Dogiel type II neurons, small Dogiel type II neurons, and a less common subpopulation of small, elongated, multipolar neurons. These neurons were also fewer in number in the myenteric plexus compared to the submucosal plexus. The distribution of these phenotypic markers may assist future work that elucidates the functional activities of these enteric neurons such as control of intestinal motility and adaptation to the entry of gastric contents. Anat Rec Part A 271A:209–216, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.