Nitric oxide synthase immunoreactivity in the enteric nervous system of the developing human digestive tract

Cell Tissue Res. 1994 Feb;275(2):235-45. doi: 10.1007/BF00319421.


We have investigated indirectly the presence of nitric oxide in the enteric nervous system of the digestive tract of human fetuses and newborns by nitric oxide synthase (NOS) immunocytochemistry and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate diaphorase (NADPHd) histochemistry. In the stomach, NOS immunoactivity was confined to the myenteric plexus and nerve fibres in the outer smooth musculature; few immunoreactive nerve cell bodies were found in ganglia of the outer submucous plexus. In the pyloric region, a few nitrergic perikarya were seen in the inner submucous plexus and some immunoreactive fibers were found in the muscularis mucosae. In the small intestine, nitrergic neurons clustered just underneath or above the topographical plane formed by the primary nerve strands of the myenteric plexus up to the 26th week of gestation, after which stage, they occurred throughout the ganglia. Many of their processes contributed to the dense fine-meshed tertiary nerve network of the myenteric plexus and the circular smooth muscle layer. NOS-immunoreactive fibres directed to the circular smooth muscle layer originated from a few NOS-containing perikarya located in the outer submucous plexus. In the colon, caecum and rectum, labelled nerve cells and fibres were numerous in the myenteric plexus; they were also found in the outer submucous plexus. The circular muscle layer had a much denser NOS-immunoreactive innervation than the longitudinally oriented taenia. The marked morphological differences observed between nitrergic neurons within the developing human gastrointestinal tract, together with the typical innervation pattern in the ganglionic and aganglionic nerve networks, support the existence of distinct subpopulations of NOS-containing enterice neurons acting as interneurons or (inhibitory) motor neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Oxidoreductases / metabolism*
  • Enteric Nervous System / enzymology*
  • Enteric Nervous System / growth & development
  • Female
  • Fetus / enzymology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Myenteric Plexus / enzymology
  • NADPH Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Nerve Fibers / enzymology
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase


  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Amino Acid Oxidoreductases
  • NADPH Dehydrogenase