Lack of neuronal nitric oxide synthase in nerve fibers of aganglionic intestine: a clue to Hirschsprung's disease

J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1995 Jan;20(1):49-53. doi: 10.1097/00005176-199501000-00009.


The lack of nonadrenergic, noncholinergic (NANC) inhibitory innervation in aganglionic intestine is typical of Hirschsprung's disease. Several neuropeptides participating in the intestinal NANC innervation are greatly reduced in aganglionic intestine. However, these findings do not fully explain the pathophysiology of the disease. Recently, nitric oxide (NO) has been presented as a potent smooth muscle relaxant, and the enzyme responsible for its formation, nitric oxide synthase (NOS) has been demonstrated in neuronal elements in both the central and peripheral nervous system. In our study, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH)-diaphorase staining, a marker for NOS, and NOS immunohistochemistry revealed a dense innervation of the smooth muscle layers and the myenteric ganglia in ganglionic non afflicted intestine from patients with Hirschsprung's disease. By contrast, there was an almost complete lack of NOS-immunoreactive and NADPH-diaphorase-positive nerve fibers in the afflicted aganglionic bowel. NOS and vasoactive intestinal peptide were found to be partially colocalized in nerve fibers and neuronal cell bodies in the ganglionic but not in the aganglionic intestine. The lack of NO-producing nerve fibers in the aganglionic intestine probably contributes to the inability of the smooth muscle to relax, thereby causing lack of peristalsis in Hirschsprung's disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Oxidoreductases / deficiency*
  • Hirschsprung Disease / enzymology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intestines / innervation*
  • Muscle, Smooth / enzymology
  • Muscle, Smooth / innervation
  • NADPH Dehydrogenase / analysis
  • Nerve Fibers / enzymology*
  • Neurons / enzymology*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase


  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Amino Acid Oxidoreductases
  • NADPH Dehydrogenase