Chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction is a syndrome in which symptoms of intestinal obstruction are present in the absence of mechanical obstruction. Lack of normal pacemaker activity, usually generated by the interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC), could account for the apparent obstruction. ICC are normally located around and between the myenteric plexus ganglia and within muscle and also in the deep muscular plexus of the small bowel and the submuscular plexus of the large intestine, just within the circular muscle. ICC can be demonstrated immunohistochemically with CD117 (c-kit) as well as with CD34, although this is less specific. CD34 also stains a population of fibroblasts that are intimately associated with ICC. To determine whether there is a relative deficiency of ICC and CD34-positive fibroblasts in patients with chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction, tissue from 30 patients of large intestine and eight patients with small intestine pseudo-obstruction was obtained. Controls (large intestinal specimens from 12 patients, small intestinal specimens from six patients) were chosen from resections for Crohn's disease and colorectal neoplasia, both with and without dilatation. Examination of pseudo-obstruction cases identified 10 patients (nine large intestinal and one small intestinal) in which both CD117 and CD34 were absent or severely reduced in all three of the examined areas. In contrast, the control cases, including those with preobstructive dilatation, showed relatively constant ICC staining. These results suggest that there is a proportion of pseudo-obstruction cases in which the ICC are markedly reduced. These results also demonstrate that, in these cases, loss of the kit immunoreactivity is correlated with the loss of CD34 staining: this indicates that both the ICC and the CD34-positive fibroblasts associated with the ICC are absent. These findings will allow surgical pathologists to identify this subpopulation of patients with CIIP using tissue obtained by laparoscopic biopsy of the muscularis propria or surgical resection.