Background: Subsets of myenteric neurons have been identified. To determine the proportional representation of neurons in each, it is necessary to relate the number of neurons in the subset to that of the complete set. Prior estimates of total numbers of neurons, obtained with many different markers, have varied widely.
Methods: Markers were compared for counting myenteric neurons in dissected laminar preparations of guinea pig duodenum, jejunum-ileum, and colon; the effect of stretching preparations on these counts was also determined. Markers included the visualization of single-stranded nucleic acid with cuprolinic blue and the immunocytochemical demonstration of neuron specific enolase (NSE), PGP9.5, S-100, and the constitutive expression of a Fos related antigen (FRA).
Results: Neurons could not be counted accurately by demonstrating NSE, PGP9.5, or S-100. The number of neurons detected by demonstrating FRA was consistently less than that determined with cuprolinic blue (approximately 65%). Cuprolinic blue-derived estimates of neuron numbers were higher than most reported in the literature, but comparable to those recently obtained with "a nerve cell body" antiserum. Ganglionic area was found to be stretch independent. The rank order of neurons/cm2 and ganglionic area/ unit resting length was colon > duodenum >> jejunum-ileum; more neurons were found in the myenteric plexus of the colon (7.3 x 10(6)) than in that of the entire small intestine (6.5 x 10(6)).
Conclusions: Prior studies that have obtained denominators for estimating the proportions of myenteric neuronal subsets with markers that do not reveal the entire population should be re-evaluated. The guinea pig colon contains a surprisingly large number of neurons, the physiological significance of which must be determined.