We show here (presumably for the first time) a special type of cell in the human and rat exocrine pancreas. These cells have phenotypic characteristics of the enteric interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC). To identify pancreatic interstitial cells of Cajal (pICC) we used routine light microscopy, non-conventional light microscopy (less than 1 μm semi-thin sections of Epon-embedded specimens cut by ultramicrotomy and stained with Toluidine blue), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and immunocytochemistry. The results showed that pICC can be recognized easily by light microscopy, particularly on semi-thin sections, as well as by TEM. Two-dimensional reconstructions from serial photos suggest a network-like spatial distribution of pICC. pICC represent 3.3±0.5% of all pancreatic cells, and seem to establish close spatial relationships with: capillaries (43%), acini (40%), stellate cells (14%), nerve fibres (3%). Most of pICC (88%) have 2 or 3 long processes (tens of μm) emerging from the cell body. TEM data show that pICC meet the criteria for positive diagnosis as ICC (e.g. numerous mitochondria, 8.7±0.8% of cytoplasm). Immunocytochemistry revealed that pICC are CD117/c-kit and CD34 positive. We found pICC positive (40–50%) for smooth muscle α-actin or S-100, and, occasionally, for CD68, NK1 neurokinin receptor and vimentin. The reactions for desmin and chromogranin A were negative in pICC. At present, only hypotheses and speculations can be formulated on the possible role of the pICC (e.g., juxtacrine and/or paracrine roles).
In conclusion, the quite-established dogma: “ICC only in cavitary organs” is overpassed.