• Open Access

Histochemical and ultrastructural characteristics of an interstitial cell type different from ICC and resident in the muscle coat of human gut


Correspondence to: M. S. FAUSSONE-PELLEGRINI Department of Anatomy, Histology and Forensic Medicine, University of Florence, Viale Pieraccini 6, 50139 Florence, Italy. Tel.: (+39)055–4271389 Fax: (+39)055–4271385 E-mail: s_faussone@unifi.it


CD117 (or c-kit) is expressed by the interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC), which are located within the gastrointestinal (GI) muscle coat and directly involved in its motility. CD34 is expressed by several cell types some of which have features and location resembling the ICC; however, a sure identification of these cells is still lacking. In order to establish whether the CD34-positive cells of the human GI tract are to be considered as ICC subpopulation or a novel independent cell type, and to hypothesize their nature and role, we verified CD34 and CD117 receptor expression under light and fluorescence microscope and performed a routine and a CD34-immuno-electron microscopy. CD34-positive cells were seen in the entire human GI tract. In the muscularis propria, shared morphologies similar to the c-kit-positive cells, in the submucosa, resembled fibroblasts. Their ultrastructure resembled that of the fibrocytes/fibroblasts and of the interstitial Cajal-like cells (ICLC). Double labelling and immunoelectro-microscopy demonstrated that they are unequivocally different to the ICC and, due to the similarities with the ICLC, we identified them as ICLC. The novelty of these results is that two types of interstitial cells are present in the GI muscle coat of humans: the ICC and the ICLC. We hypothesize a mechanical role for the septal ICLC, those at the myenteric plexus level and those bordering the muscle layers; a helping role in neurotransmission is proposed for the ICLC intercalated with the intramuscular ICC, possibly in spreading the slow waves generated by the ICC. Furthermore, the possibility that the ICLC represent the adult mesenchymal stromal cells able to guarantee the ICC renewal deserves to be considered.