Detection of nutritional and noxious food components in the gut is a crucial component of gastrointestinal function. Contents in the gut lumen interact with enteroendocrine cells dispersed throughout the gut epithelium. Enteroendocrine cells release many different hormones, neuropeptides, and neurotransmitters that communicate either directly or indirectly with the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system, a network of neurons and glia located within the gut wall. Several populations of enteric neurons extend processes that innervate the gastrointestinal lamina propria; however, how these processes develop and begin to transmit information from the mucosa is not fully understood. In this study, we found that Tuj1-immunoreactive neurites begin to project out of the myenteric plexus at embryonic day (E)13.5 in the mouse small intestine, even before the formation of villi. Using live calcium imaging, we discovered that neurites were capable of transmitting electrical information from stimulated villi to the plexus by E15.5. In unpeeled gut preparations where all layers were left intact, we also mimicked the basolateral release of 5-HT from enteroendocrine cells, which triggered responses in myenteric cell bodies at postnatal day (P)0. Altogether, our results show that enteric neurons extend neurites out of the myenteric plexus early during mouse enteric nervous system development, innervating the gastrointestinal mucosa, even before villus formation in mice of either sex. Neurites are already able to conduct electrical information at E15.5, and responses to 5-HT develop postnatally.NEW & NOTEWORTHY How enteric neurons project into the gut mucosa and begin to communicate with the epithelium during development is not known. Our study shows that enteric neurites project into the lamina propria as early as E13.5 in the mouse, before development of the submucous plexus and before formation of intestinal villi. These neurites are capable of transmitting electrical signals back to their cell bodies by E15.5 and respond to serotonin applied to neurite terminals by birth.
Keywords: enteric nervous system development; gut mucosa; neurite extension; serotonin.