• enteric neurons;
  • interstitial cells of Cajal;
  • ICC;
  • immunohistochemistry


The tachykinin substance P (SP) acts on the gut muscle coat via its preferred receptor, neurokinin 1 (NK1r). In the mouse ileum, NK1r-immunoreactivity (NK1r-IR) was detected in neurons, in the interstitial cells of Cajal at the deep muscular plexus (ICC-DMP) and the myoid cells of the villi. SP-IR was detected in neurons and varicose nerve fibers, which were especially numerous at the DMP and closely associated with the ICC-DMP. In mice with a mutation in the W locus (c-kit mutant animals), innervation is suggested to be normal although few studies have actually tested this hypothesis. Indeed, studies demonstrating ICC-DMP integrity are lacking and whether SP- and NK1r-IR are normal in these animals has not been investigated. Our aim was to perform an immunohistochemical study on the ileum of a strain of heterozygous mice with a mutation in the W locus, the We/+ mice, to test this hypothesis. SP-IR nerve fibers were significantly more numerous than in wild type mice; NK1r-IR was clustered on the plasma membrane and also intracytoplasmatic in the neurons, but absent in the ICC-DMP. The richness in SP-IR nerve fibers and the NK1r-IR distribution in the neurons, similar to that of activated cells, might be attempts to compensate for the SP preferred receptor absence at the ICC-DMP. In conclusion, SP content and NK1r expression are noticeably different in c-kit mutants with respect to wild type mice, and probably causing an anomalous tachykininergic control of intestinal motility. Physiological studies on W mutant mice have to take into account that innervation in this animal model is affected by the c-kit mutation.