- 1Collagenase dispersal of strips of rabbit urethra yielded, in addition to normal spindle-shaped smooth muscle cells, a small proportion of branched cells which resembled the interstitial cells of Cajal dispersed from canine colon. These were clearly distinguishable from smooth muscle in their appearance under the phase-contrast microscope, their immunohistochemistry and their ultrastructure. They had abundant vimentin filaments but no myosin, a discontinuous basal lamina, sparse rough endoplasmic reticulum, many mitochondria and a well-developed smooth endoplasmic reticulum.
- 2Interstitial cells were non-contractile but exhibited regular spontaneous depolarisations in current clamp. These could be increased in frequency by noradrenaline and blocked by perfusion with calcium-free solution. In voltage clamp they showed abundant calcium-activated chloride current and spontaneous transient inward currents which could be blocked by chloride channel blockers.
- 3The majority of smooth muscle cells were vigorously contractile when stimulated but did not show spontaneous electrical activity in current clamp. In voltage clamp, smooth muscle cells showed very little calcium-activated chloride current.
- 4We conclude that there are specialised pacemaking cells in the rabbit urethra that may be responsible for initiating the slow waves recorded from smooth muscle cells in the intact syncitium.