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Interstitial cells of Cajal in health and disease. Part I: Normal ICC structure and function with associated motility disorders


C J Streutker, Division of Pathology, St Michael's Hospital and University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. e-mail:


Ramon y Cajal (1852–1934) is considered to be one of the founders of the field of neuroscience. In 1911, he described interstitial neurons in the gut, noting that they were primitive accessory components that perhaps modify smooth muscle contraction, themselves subject to regulation from principle neurons. The accuracy of his description of their appearance and activities has led to these cells now being called the interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC). Thuneberg and Faussone-Pellegrini were instrumental in bringing these cells to the attention of gastroenterologists and pathologists in the early 1980s. Subsequently, the development of antibodies to c-kit has allowed routine identification of the ICC in pathology specimens. c-Kit is a transmembrane protein kinase which has as ligand stem cell factor and is involved in cell development in a variety of cell lineages. In the gut musculature, ICC and mast cells are the only cells that have prominent c-kit expression. The ICC are now known to play an important role in gut motility and absent or disordered ICC networks have been identified in a variety of motility disorders.