Background Aging produces inevitable changes in the function of most organs including the gastrointestinal tract. Together with enteric nerves and smooth muscle cells, interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) play a key role in the control of gastrointestinal motility, yet little is known about the effect of aging on ICC. The aim of this study was to determine the effect of aging on ICC number and volume in the human stomach and colon.
Methods Gastric and colonic tissues from patients aged 25–70 and 36–92 years old, respectively, and with no co-existent motility disorders were immunolabeled with an anti-Kit antibody and ICC were counted in the circular muscle and myenteric regions. Network volumes were measured using 3D reconstructions of confocal stacks. The effects of aging were determined by testing for linear trends using regression analysis.
Key Results In both stomach and colon, the number of ICC bodies and volume significantly decreased with age at a rate of 13% per decade. ICC size was only affected in the myenteric plexus in the colon. The changes associated with age were not differentially affected by sex or colonic region.
Conclusions & Inferences The number and volume of ICC networks in the normal human stomach and colon decline with age. This decrease in ICC likely reduces the functional capacity of the gastrointestinal motor apparatus, may contribute to changes in gastrointestinal motility with aging and may influence intestinal responses to insults such as disease, operative interventions and medications in older patients. Tissue specimens must be carefully age-matched when studying ICC in disease.