Organization and function of ICC in the urinary tract


  • This report was presented at The Journal of Physiology Symposium on Involvement of interstitial cells of Cajal in the control of smooth muscle excitability, Okayama, Japan, 22 July 2006. It was commissioned by the Editorial Board and reflects the views of the authors.

Corresponding author N. McHale, Smooth Muscle Research Centre, Regional Development Centre, Dundalk Institute of Technology, Dundalk, Co. Louth, Ireland. Email:


ICC are found in both the upper and lower urinary tract. They are not found in the ureter itself but are confined to the lamina propria of the renal pelvis and pelvi-calyceal junction. They do not appear to have a primary pacemaker role (this is ascribed to atypical smooth muscle cells in the same location) but rather conduct and amplify the pacemaker signals generated by the atypical smooth muscle cells. In the bladder, ICC are widely distributed in the sub-urothelial region, in the lamina propria and at the margins of the detrusor smooth muscle bundles. Again they appear not to have a pacemaking role and such evidence as there is would suggest that they have a role in the modulation of signal transduction. The strongest evidence that ICC in the urinary tract act as pacemakers comes from studies of those in the urethra. Isolated ICC show regular spontaneous depolarizations in current clamp which resemble very closely the slow waves recorded from intact tissue. In voltage clamp they show abundant calcium-activated chloride current and spontaneous transient inward currents which can be blocked by chloride channel blockers. However, their role in the modulation of urethral tone has yet to be fully elucidated.