• interstitial Cajal-like cells;
  • myocardocytes;
  • intercalated discs;
  • shed vesicles;
  • exosomes;
  • nanocontacts;
  • heterocellular communication;
  • intercellular signaling


Intercalated discs (ID) are complex junctional units that connect cardiac myocytes mechanically and electrochemically. However, there is limited information concerning the cardiomyocyte interaction with interstitial non-muscle cells. Our previous studies showed that myocardial interstitial Cajal-like cells (ICLC) are located in between cardiomyocytes, blood capillaries and nerve fibres. Typically, ICLC have several very long, moniliform, cytoplasmic processes which establish closed contacts with nerve fibres, as well as each other. We report here ultrastructural evidence concerning the relationships of ICLC processes with ID. The ICLC cytoplasmic prolongations (tens micrometers length) preferentially pass by or stop nearby the ID. Transmission electron microscopy emphasized three distinct connecting features between the tips of ICLC extensions and myocytes at the ‘mouth’ of ID: free or budding shed vesicles, exocytotic multi-vesicular bodies and direct contacts. In the last case, electron-dense repetitive nanostructures (‘pillars’) (35–40 nm high and 100–150 nm wide, similar to adhesion molecules) fasten the ICLC to the myocytes. All these features suggest a juxtacrine and/or paracrine intercellular mutual modulation of ICLC and cardiomyocytes in the microenvironment of ID, possibly monitoring the cardiac functions, particularly the electrical activity.