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Keywords:

  • cholinergic innervation;
  • deep muscular plexus;
  • enteric nerves;
  • human small intestine;
  • immuno-electronmicroscopy;
  • immunohistochemistry;
  • interstitial cells of Cajal;
  • nitrergic innervation;
  • nitric oxide synthase;
  • vesicular acetylcholine transporter

Abstract

With functional evidence emerging that interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) play a role in smooth muscle innervation, detailed knowledge is needed about the structural aspects of enteric innervation of the human gut. Conventional electronmicroscopy (EM), immunohistochemistry and immuno-EM were performed on the musculature of the distal human ileum focusing on ICC associated with the deep muscular plexus (ICC-DMP) and intramuscular ICC (ICC-IM). ICC-DMP could be identified by EM but not by c-Kit immunohistochemistry. Immuno-EM revealed that ICC-DMP were innervated by both cholinergic and nitrergic nerves, and were the only cells to possess specialized synapse-like junctions with nerve varicosities and gap junction contacts with smooth muscle cells. c-Kit positive ICC near the deep muscular plexus were not ICC-DMP, but ICC-IM located in septa. ICC-IM were innervated by both cholinergic and nitrergic nerves but without specialized contacts. Varicosities of both nerve types were also found scattered throughout the musculature without specialized contact with any ICC. No ICC showed immunoreactivity for neuronal nitric oxide synthase. As ICC-DMP form synapse-like junctions with cholinergic and nitrergic nerves and gap junction contacts with muscle cells, it is hypothfesized that ICC-DMP hold a specialized function related to innervation of smooth muscle of the human intestine.