Synaptic specializations exist between enteric motor nerves and interstitial cells of Cajal in the murine stomach

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Abstract

Autonomic neurotransmission is thought to occur via a loose association between nerve varicosities and smooth muscle cells. In the gastrointestinal tract ultrastructural studies have demonstrated close apposition between enteric nerves and intramuscular interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC-IM) in the stomach and colon and ICC in the deep muscular plexus (ICC-DMP) of the small intestine. In the absence of ICC-IM, postjunctional neural responses are compromised. Although membrane specializations between nerves and ICC-IM have been reported, the molecular identity of these specializations has not been studied. Here we have characterized the expression and distribution of synapse-associated proteins between nerve terminals and ICC-IM in the murine stomach. Transcripts for the presynaptic proteins synaptotagmin, syntaxin, and SNAP-25 were detected. Synaptotagmin and SNAP-25-immunopositive nerve varicosities were concentrated in varicose regions of motor nerves and were closely apposed to ICC-IM but not smooth muscle. W/WV mice were used to examine the expression and distribution of synaptic proteins in the absence of ICC-IM. Transcripts encoding synaptotagmin, syntaxin, and SNAP-25 were detected in W/WV tissues. In the absence of ICC-IM, synaptotagmin and SNAP-25 were localized to nerve varicosities. Reverse transcriptase polymer chain reaction (RT-PCR) and immunohistochemistry demonstrated the expression of postsynaptic density proteins PSD-93 and PSD-95 in the stomach and expression levels of PSD-93 and PSD-95 were reduced in W/WV mutants. These data support the existence of synaptic specializations between enteric nerves and ICC-IM in gastric tissues. In the absence of ICC-IM, components of the synaptic vesicle docking and fusion machinery is trafficked and concentrated in enteric nerve terminals. J. Comp. Neurol. 493:193–206, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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