Interstitial cells of Cajal and neuromuscular transmission in the rat lower oesophageal sphincter


Marcel Jiménez, VMD, PHD, Department of Cell Biology, Physiology, and Immunology, Veterinary Faculty, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, 08193 Bellaterra, Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain.
Tel: +34 93 581 1898; fax: +34 93 581 2006; e-mail:


Abstract  The distribution of interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) and neurotransmission were investigated in lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) circular muscle strips from Sprague–Dawley (SD) rats, Ws/Ws mutant rats and their wild-type (+/+) siblings. Intramuscular c-Kit-positive cells, confirmed to be ICC-IM by electron microscopy, were observed throughout both muscle layers from SD and +/+ rats. In contrast, c-Kit-positive, ultrastructurally typical ICC-IM were absent in Ws/Ws. LES strips from Ws/Ws rats showed increased spontaneous contractile activity. Strips from SD and +/+ rats, responded to electrical neuronal stimulation with a relaxation that was in part L-NNA and in part apamin sensitive, followed by a contraction which was decreased by atropine. In Ws/Ws rats, similar to +/+ rats, neurally mediated relaxation was L-NNA and apamin sensitive and the contraction was decreased by atropine. We conclude that in the rat LES, relaxation is mediated by NO and an apamin-sensitive mediator, and contraction primarily by acetylcholine. Despite the absence of c-Kit-positive ICC, nerve–muscle interaction can be accomplished likely by diffusion of neurotransmitters to the smooth muscle cells. The lack of c-Kit-positive ICC is related to an increase in the basal tone and spontaneous contractile activity. The presence of fibroblast-like ICC in Ws/Ws rats might represent immature ICC whose possible functions need further investigation.