Objective: To identify interstitial cells (ICs) in the wall of the rabbit urethra using antibodies to the Kit receptor, and to examine their location, morphology and relationship with nerves and smooth muscle cells (SMCs), as studies of enzymatically isolated cells from the rabbit urethra have established that there are specialized cells that show spontaneous electrical activity and have morphological properties of ICs.
Materials and methods: Urethral tissues from rabbits were fixed, labelled with antibodies and examined with confocal microscopy. Some specimens were embedded in paraffin wax and processed for histology. Histological sections from the most proximal third and mid-third region of rabbit urethra were stained with Masson's Trichrome to show their cellular arrangement.
Results: Sections from both regions had outer longitudinal and inner circular layers of SM, and a lamina propria containing connective tissue and blood vessels; the lumen was lined with urothelial cells. The mid-third region had a more developed circular SM layer than the most-proximal samples, and had extensive inner longitudinal SM bundles in the lamina propria. Labelling with anti-Kit revealed immunopositive cells within the wall of the rabbit urethra, in the circular and longitudinal layers of the muscularis. Double-labelling with an antibody to SM myosin showed Kit-positive cells on the boundary of the SM bundles, orientated parallel to the axis of the bundles. Others were in spaces between the bundles and often made contact with each other. Kit-positive cells were either elongated, with several lateral branches, or stellate with branches coming from a central soma. Similar cells could be labelled with vimentin antibodies. Their relationship with intramural nerves was examined by double immunostaining with an anti-neurofilament antibody. There were frequent points of contact between Kit-positive cells and nerves, with similar findings in specimens double-immunostained with anti-neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS).
Conclusion: Kit-positive ICs were found within the SM layers of the rabbit urethra, in association with nerves, on the edge of SM bundles and in the interbundle spaces. The contact with nNOS-containing neurones might imply participation in the nitrergic inhibitory neurotransmission of the urethra.