Background and Aims: Interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) are distributed with smooth muscle throughout the gastrointestinal tract and are involved in regulating motility. ICC were recently discovered in the wall of the human gallbladder. This study sought to determine whether ICC are present in human bile ducts.
Methods: Biliary tract samples were obtained from several sources: surgical specimens (n = 16, 11 women, mean age 61 years); archival post-mortem specimen (n = 1, 86 years, man); and cadavers (n = 2, 68 and 80 years, men). Paraffin-embedded sections (3 µm) from the gallbladder (fundus, body and neck) and both extrahepatic and intrahepatic bile ducts were investigated. A double immunofluorescence protocol using polyclonal and monoclonal c-kit antibodies and mast cell tryptase was used to distinguish c-kit-positive cells with typical ICC morphology from c-kit-positive mast cells. Small bowel samples were used as positive controls. ICC in the gallbladder were confirmed by ultrastructural study.
Results: c-kit-positive cells with characteristic ICC morphology were identified in the subepithelial and muscular layers of the gallbladder and extrahepatic bile ducts. They were most prominent within the muscle layer of the extrahepatic bile ducts where they were organized into loosely arranged laminae running parallel to circular smooth muscle fibers. ICC were not found in intrahepatic bile ducts.
Conclusion: This study demonstrates for the first time that ICC are present in human extrahepatic bile ducts where they are more densely aggregated than in the gallbladder. This cellular network is likely to be involved in biliary tract motility and its related disorders.