Myenteric nitrergic neurons along the rat esophagus: evidence for regional and strain differences in age-related changes

Histochem Cell Biol. 2003 May;119(5):395-403. doi: 10.1007/s00418-003-0526-3. Epub 2003 Apr 30.


Several studies have suggested an age-related reduction in the number of myenteric neurons in the lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract linked to changes in GI neuromuscular functions. The present study, combining protein gene product 9.5 immunostaining and NADPH-diaphorase histochemistry, aimed at quantifying the proportion of nitrergic neurons compared to the overall number of enteric neurons in the esophagus of young (3-4.5 months) and aged (18-20 months) Sprague-Dawley and Wistar rats. In both strains, the neuron numbers per ganglion in the cervical region were almost twice as high as in the other esophageal regions. Irrespective of age or strain, the esophagus harbored a very high proportion of intrinsic nitrergic neurons (greater than approximately 65%). Both strains showed with aging an overall neuronal loss of approximately 27%. While a significant increase (young: 64-71%; aged: 82-89%) was observed in all esophageal regions in the Wistar strain, the proportion of nitrergic neurons remained stable with aging in the Sprague-Dawley strain (range: 72-82%). In conclusion, the age-related reduction in the overall number of myenteric, nitrergic, and non-nitrergic neurons observed in the rat esophagus, appears to be highly region- and strain-dependent. Therefore, a protective mechanism against neuronal cell loss, selectively present in specific (nitrergic) enteric subpopulations, as suggested in earlier reports, cannot be put forward as a general phenomenon throughout the entire GI tract.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Animals
  • Cell Count
  • Esophagus / innervation*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Myenteric Plexus / cytology*
  • Myenteric Plexus / enzymology
  • NADPH Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Nitrergic Neurons / cytology*
  • Nitrergic Neurons / enzymology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Species Specificity
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase / metabolism


  • NADPH Dehydrogenase
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase