Characterization of putative interneurons in the myenteric plexus of human colon

Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2021 Jan;33(1):e13964. doi: 10.1111/nmo.13964. Epub 2020 Aug 24.


Background: The enteric nervous system contains multiple classes of neurons, distinguishable by morphology, immunohistochemical markers, and projections; however, specific combinations differ between species. Here, types of enteric neurons in human colon were characterized immunohistochemically, using retrograde tracing combined with multiple labeling immunohistochemistry, focussing on non-motor neurons.

Methods: The fluorescent carbocyanine tracer, DiI, was applied to the myenteric plexus in ex vivo preparations, filling neurons projecting within the plexus. Limits of projection lengths of motor neurons were established, allowing them to be excluded from the analysis. Long ascending and descending interneurons were then distinguished by labeling for discriminating immunohistochemical markers: calbindin, calretinin, enkephalin, 5-hydroxytryptamine, nitric oxide synthase, and substance P. These results were combined with a previous published study in which nitric oxide synthase and choline acetyltransferase immunoreactivities were established.

Key results: Long ascending neurons (with projections longer than 8 mm, which excludes more than 95% motor neurons) formed four types, in descending order of abundance, defined by immunoreactivity for: (a) ChAT+/ENK+, (b) ChAT+/ENK+/SP+, (c) ChAT+/Calb+, and (d) ChAT+/ENK+/Calb+. Long descending neurons, up to 70 mm long also formed at least four types, distinguished by immunoreactivity for (a) NOS + cells (without ChAT), (b) ChAT+/NOS+, (c) ChAT+/Calret+, and (d) ChAT+/5HT + cells (with or without NOS).

Conclusions and inferences: Long interneurons, which do not innervate muscularis externa, are likely to coordinate neural activity over distances of many centimeters along the colon. Characterizing their neurochemical coding provides a basis for understanding their roles, investigating their connectivity, and building a comprehensive account of human colonic enteric neurons.

Keywords: cholinergic; human colon; interneurons; myenteric plexus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Calbindin 2 / metabolism
  • Calbindins / metabolism
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Colon / innervation*
  • Enkephalins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interneurons / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism*
  • Myenteric Plexus / cytology
  • Myenteric Plexus / metabolism*
  • Neurons, Afferent / metabolism*
  • Neurons, Efferent / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Substance P / metabolism


  • Calbindin 2
  • Calbindins
  • Enkephalins
  • Serotonin
  • Substance P
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase