Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel disease with alterations of colonic motility, which influence clinical symptoms. Although morpho-functional abnormalities in the enteric nervous system have been suggested, in UC patients scarce attention has been paid to possible changes in the cells that control colonic motility, including myenteric neurons, glial cells and interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC). This study evaluated the neural-glial components of myenteric ganglia and ICC in the colonic neuromuscular compartment of UC patients by quantitative immunohistochemical analysis. Full-thickness archival samples of the left colon were collected from 10 patients with UC (5 males, 5 females; age range 45-62 years) who underwent elective bowel resection. The colonic neuromuscular compartment was evaluated immunohistochemically in paraffin cross-sections. The distribution and number of neurons, glial cells and ICC were assessed by anti-HuC/D, -S100β and -c-Kit antibodies, respectively. Data were compared with findings on archival samples of normal left colon from 10 sex- and age-matched control patients, who underwent surgery for uncomplicated colon cancer. Compared to controls, patients with UC showed: (i) reduced density of myenteric HuC/D(+) neurons and S100β(+) glial cells, with a loss over 61% and 38%, respectively, and increased glial cell/neuron ratio; (ii) ICC decrease in the whole neuromuscular compartment. The quantitative variations of myenteric neuro-glial cells and ICC indicate considerable alterations of the colonic neuromuscular compartment in the setting of mucosal inflammation associated with UC, and provide a morphological basis for better understanding the motor abnormalities often observed in UC patients.
© 2011 The Authors Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine © 2011 Foundation for Cellular and Molecular Medicine/Blackwell Publishing Ltd.