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Keywords:

  • Interstitial Cells of Cajal;
  • smooth muscle cells;
  • rabbit portal vein;
  • guinea pig mesenteric artery;
  • rhythmical Ca2+ waves

Abstract

Interstitial cells of Cajal are believed to play an important role in gastrointestinal tissues by generating and propagating electrical slow waves to gastrointestinal muscles and/or mediating signals from the enteric nervous system. Recently cells with similar morphological characteristics have been found in the wall of blood vessels such as rabbit portal vein and guinea pig mesenteric artery. These non-contractile cells are characterised by the presence of numerous processes and were easily detected in the wall of the rabbit portal vein by staining with methylene blue or by antibodies to the marker of Interstitial Cells of Cajal c-kit. These vascular cells have been termed “interstitial cells” by analogy with interstitial cells found in the gastrointestinal tract. Freshly dispersed interstitial cells from rabbit portal vein and guinea pig mesenteric artery displayed various Ca2+-release events from endo/sarcoplasmic reticulum including fast localised Ca2+ transients (Ca2+ sparks) and longer and slower Ca2+ events. Single interstitial cells from the rabbit portal vein, which is a spontaneously active vessel, also demonstrated rhythmical Ca2+ oscillations associated with membrane depolarisations, which suggests that in this vessel interstitial cells may act as pacemakers for smooth muscle cells. The function of interstitial cells from the mesenteric arteries is yet unknown. This article reviews some of the recent findings regarding interstitial cells from blood vessels obtained by our laboratory using electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry, tight-seal patch-clamp recording, and fluorescence confocal imaging techniques.