Background/purpose: The distributions and pathways of the extrinsic enteric nerves in the aganglionic segment in Hirschsprung's disease (HD) have not been delineated completely. The authors have clarified the major pathways and the details of fine distribution of the extrinsic nerves in the aganglionic segment of a congenital aganglionosis rat. Further investigation was extended to apply those findings in human materials.
Methods: Five HD patients, eight fetuses, and two postmortem neonates with normally innervated colon were examined. Specimens were observed by histochemical technique using light microscopy in whole-mount preparations.
Results: Two sets of extrinsic nerve strands were observed in the distal aganglionic colon; one consisted of a continuous network located between the longitudinal and circular muscle coats, and the other involved branches that mainly coursed along the blood vessels in the submucosal layer originating from the nearby mesentery. These two sets of nerve strands were similar to those of aganglionosis rats. Also, thick nerve strands were found running longitudinally in the myenteric layer in the normally ganglionated colon of 18- and 21-week-old fetuses. These nerve strands were unclear in a 32-week-old fetus.
Conclusions: This study showed the following: (1) the origin of the nerve strands in the myenteric layer is mainly the pelvic nerve plexus and (2) the number of ascending extrinsic nerve strands decreases from the proximal colon in cases of long-segment aganglionosis, which may be caused by the same process that occurs in the normally innervated bowel.