Background & aims: Previous studies have suggested that a specific class of interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) act as mediators in nitrergic inhibitory neurotransmission. The aim of this investigation was to examine the role of intramuscular ICC (IC-IM) in neurotransmission in the murine lower esophageal (LES) and pyloric sphincters (PS).
Methods: Immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology were used to study the distribution and role of IC-IM.
Results: The LES and PS contain spindle-shaped IC-IM, which form close relationships with nitric oxide synthase-containing nerve fibers. The PS contains ICC within the myenteric plexus and c-Kit immunopositive cells along the submucosal surface of the circular muscle. IC-IM were absent in the LES and PS of c-kit (W/Wv) mutant mice. Using these mutants, we tested whether IC-IM mediate neural inputs in the LES and PS. Although the distribution of inhibitory nerves was normal in W/Wv animals, NO-dependent inhibitory neurotransmission was reduced. Hyperpolarizations to sodium nitroprusside were also attenuated in W/Wv animals.
Conclusions: The data suggest that IC-IM play an important role in NO-dependent neurotransmission in the LES and PS. IC-IM may be the effectors that transduce NO signals into hyperpolarizing responses. Loss of IC-IM may interfere with relaxations and normal motility in these sphincters.