Phenotypic expression in the developing murine enteric nervous system

J Neurosci. 1982 Mar;2(3):381-93. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.02-03-00381.1982.


The development of the enteric nervous system was examined in fetal mice. Synthesis of [3H] acetylcholine ([3H]ACh) from [3H]choline and acetylcholinesterase histochemistry were used as phenotypic markers for cholinergic neurons, while the radioautographic detection of the specific uptake of [3H]serotonin (5-[3H]HT) and immunocytochemical staining with antiserum to 5-HT marked serotonergic neurons. The gut also was examined by light and electron microscopy. Development of the gut was studied in situ and in explants grown in organotypic tissue culture. Neurons were first detected morphologically in the foregut on embryonic day 12 (E12). Synthesis of [3H]ACh was detectable on days E10 to E12 but increased markedly between days E13 and E14. Uptake and radioautographic labeling by 5-[3H]HT was seen first in the foregut on day E12, in the colon on day E13, and in the terminal colon on day E14. Gut explanted from both distal and proximal bowel prior to the time when neurons could be detected (days E9 to E11) nevertheless formed neurons in culture. These cultures of early explants displayed markers for both cholinergic and serotonergic neurons. Enhances development of both cholinergic and serotonergic neurons was found in cultures explanted at day E11 over that found in cultures explanted on days E9 or E10. The evidence presented indicates (1) that enteric neurons develop from nonrecognizable precursors, (2) that the proximodistal gradient in neuronal phenotypic expression probably is not related to a proximodistal migration of precursor cells down the gut, (3) that the colonization of the bowel by neuronal precursors may be a prolonged process continuing from day E9 at least through day E11, (4) that the first pool of neuronal primordia to colonize the developing bowel can produce both cholinergic and serotonergic neurons. It is proposed that a sequential interaction of a long retained pool of dividing precursor cells with a fetal enteric microenvironment that changes as a function of time during ontogeny may be involved in producing the phenotypic diversity that characterized the enteric nervous system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / analysis
  • Acetylcholine / biosynthesis
  • Acetylcholinesterase / analysis
  • Animals
  • Digestive System / analysis
  • Digestive System / cytology
  • Digestive System / embryology*
  • Digestive System / metabolism
  • Muridae / embryology*
  • Muridae / genetics
  • Nervous System / analysis
  • Nervous System / cytology
  • Nervous System / embryology*
  • Nervous System / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Serotonin / analysis
  • Tritium


  • Tritium
  • Serotonin
  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Acetylcholine