Background The gastric sling muscle has not been investigated for possible sensory innervation, in spite of the key roles the structure plays in lower esophageal sphincter (LES) function and gastric physiology. Thus, the present experiment used tracing techniques to label vagal afferents and survey their projections in the lesser curvature.
Methods Sprague–Dawley rats received injections of dextran biotin into the nodose ganglia. Fourteen days postinjection, animals were euthanized and their stomachs were processed to visualize the vagal afferent innervation. In different cases, neurons, muscle cells, or interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) were counterstained.
Key Results The sling muscle is innervated throughout its length by vagal afferent intramuscular arrays (IMAs) associated with ICC. In addition, the distal antral attachment site of the sling muscle is innervated by a novel vagal afferent terminal specialization, an antral web ending. The muscle wall of the distal antrum is also innervated by conventional IMAs and intraganglionic laminar endings, the two types of mechanoreceptors found throughout stomach smooth muscle.
Conclusions & Inferences The innervation of sling muscle by IMAs, putative stretch receptors, suggests that sling sensory feedback may generate vago-vagal or other reflexes with vagal afferent limbs. The restricted distribution of afferent web endings near the antral attachments of sling fibers suggests the possibility of specialized mechanoreceptor functions linking antral and pyloric activity to the operation of the LES. Dysfunctional sling afferents could generate LES motor disturbances, or normative compensatory sensory feedback from the muscle could compromise therapies targeting only effectors.