Effective digestion requires propagation of food along the entire length of the gastrointestinal tract. This process involves coordinated waves of peristalsis produced by enteric neural cell types, including different categories of interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC). Impaired food transport along the gastrointestinal tract, either too fast or too slow, causes a range of gut motility disorders that affect millions of people worldwide. Notably, loss of ICC has been shown to affect gut motility. Patients that suffer from gut motility disorders regularly experience diarrhoea and/or constipation, insomnia, anxiety, attention lapses, irritability, dizziness, and headaches that greatly affect both physical and mental health. Limited treatment options are available for these patients, due to the scarcity of human gut tissue for research and transplantation. Recent advances in stem cell technology suggest that large amounts of rudimentary, yet functional, human gut tissue can be generated in vitro for research applications. Intriguingly, these stem cell-derived gut organoids appear to contain functional ICC, although their frequency and functional properties are yet to be fully characterised. By reviewing methods of gut organoid generation, together with what is known of the molecular and functional characteristics of ICC, this article highlights short- and long-term goals that need to be overcome in order to develop ICC-based therapies for gut motility disorders.
Keywords: interstitial cells of Cajal; motility disorder; organoid; stem cell.