Nitrergic and Substance P Immunoreactive Neurons in the Enteric Nervous System of the Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) Intestine

Animals (Basel). 2021 Apr 8;11(4):1057. doi: 10.3390/ani11041057.


Compared with other mammals, the digestive system of cetaceans presents some remarkable anatomical and physiological differences. However, the neurochemical features of the enteric nervous system (ENS) in these animals have only been described in part. The present study gives a description of the nitrergic and selected peptidergic systems in the myenteric plexus (MP) and submucosal plexus (SMP) of the intestine of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). The distribution and morphology of neurons immunoreactive (IR) for the neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) and Substance P (SP) were immunohistochemically studied in formalin-fixed specimens from the healthy intestine of three animals, and the data were compared with those described in the literature on other mammals (human and non-human). In bottlenose dolphins, the percentages of nitrergic neurons (expressed as median and interquartile range-IQR) were 28% (IQR = 19-29) in the MP and 1% (IQR = 0-2) in the SMP, while the percentages of SP-IR neurons were 31% (IQR = 22-37) in the MP and 41% (IQR = 24-63) in the SMP. Although morphological features of nNOS- and SP-IR neurons were similar to those reported in other mammals, we found some noticeable differences in the percentages of enteric neurons. In fact, we detected a lower proportion of nNOS-IR neurons in the SMP and a higher proportion of SP-IR neurons in the MP compared to other mammals. To the best of the authors' knowledge, this study represents the first description and quantification of nNOS-IR neurons and the first quantification of SP-IR neurons in the intestine of a cetacean species. As nNOS and SP are important mediators of intestinal functions and the nitrergic population is an important target for many neuroenteropathies, data obtained from a healthy intestine provide a necessary basis to further investigate and understand possible functional differences and motor intestinal dysfunctions/alterations in these special mammals.

Keywords: cetaceans; gut; immunohistochemistry; intestine; nNOS.