Background: Interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) have been identified in urinary bladder of several species, but their presence in mice remains uncertain. Meanwhile, dozens of reports indicate that dysregulation of connexin 43 plays an important role in bladder overactivity, but its localization has not been clearly defined, with reports of expression in either the smooth muscle or in myofibroblasts. We recently identified a population of ectonucleoside triphosphate diphosphohydrolase 2 (NTPDase2) positive cells that resemble ICC and are distinct from smooth muscle, fibroblasts, myofibroblasts and neurons. Thus we sought to define more clearly the molecular signature of ICC and in doing so resolve some of these uncertainties.
Principle findings: Immunofluorescent localization revealed that NTPDase2-positive cells lie closely adjacent to smooth muscle but are separate from them. NTPDase2 positive cells exhibited co-localization with the widely accepted ICC marker - c-kit. They were further shown to co-localize with other ICC markers CD34 and Ano1, but not with mast cell marker tryptase. Significantly, they show convincing co-localization with connexin 43, which was not present in smooth muscle. The identity of these cells as ICC was further confirmed by the presence of three mesenchymal markers - vimentin, desmin, and PDGFβ receptor, which indicates their mesenchymal origin. Finally, we observed for the first time, the presence of merlin/neurofibromin 2 in ICC. Normally considered a neuronal protein, the presence of merlin suggests ICC in bladder may have a role in neurotransmission.
Conclusions: NTPDase2 positive cells in mice bladder are ICC, which can be defined by the presence of c-Kit, CD34, Ano1, NTPDase2, connexin 43, vimentin, desmin, PDGFβ receptor and merlin/NF2. These data establish a definitive molecular expression profile, which can be used to assist in explorations of their functional roles, and the presence of NTPDase2 suggests that purinergic signaling plays a role in regulation of ICC function.