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Keywords:

  • interstitial cells;
  • myometrial contractility;
  • c-kit

Abstract

  • • 
    Introduction
  • • 
    Nomenclature
  • • 
    Uterine contractions and the ‘functional syncytium theory’
  • • 
    Interstitial cells of Cajal in the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts
  • • 
    Are there m-ICLC in myometrium?
  • • 
    The effect of c-kit inhibition on myometrial contractility
  • • 
    Electrophysiology of m-ICLC
  • • 
    Imaging of tissue level signals in myometrium
  • • 
    Emerging concepts – the possible role of extracellular ATP in myometrial contractility
  • • 
    Where do m-ICLC fit in with a model for the generation of myometrial contractions?
  • • 
    Future research directions
  • • 
    Conclusion

A strict regulation of contractility in the uterus and fallopian tube is essential for various reproductive functions. The uterus contributes, through either increased contractility or periods of relative quiescence, to: (i) expulsion of menstrual debris, (ii) sperm transport, (iii) adequate embryo placement during implantation, (iv) enlarging its capacity during pregnancy and (v) parturition. The dominant cell population of the uterine wall consists of smooth muscle cells that contain the contractile apparatus responsible for the generation of contractile force. Recent interest has focused on a new population of cells located throughout the myometrium on the borders of smooth muscle bundles. These cells are similar to interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) in the gut that are responsible for the generation of electrical slow waves that control peristalsis. A precise role for myometrial Cajal-like interstitial cells (m-ICLC) has not been identified. m-ICLC express the c-kit receptor, involved in creating and maintaining the ICC phenotype in the gastrointestinal tract. However, both acute and prolonged inhibition of this receptor with the c-kit antagonist imatinib mesylate does not appear to affect the spontaneous contractility of myometrium. Calcium imaging of live tissue slices suggests that contractile signalling starts on the borders of smooth muscle bundles where m-ICLC are located and recently the possible role of extracellular ATP signalling from m-ICLC has been studied. This manuscript reviews the evidence regarding tissue-level signalling in the myometrium with a particular emphasis on the anatomical and possible functional aspects of m-ICLC as new elements of the contractile mechanisms in the uterus.