, Volume 305, Issue 3, pp 331-340

Pivotal role of the interstitial cells of Cajal in the nitric oxide signaling pathway of rat small intestine

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The nitric oxide (NO) signaling pathway is a major nonadrenergic-noncholinergic transmitter mechanism in the enteric nervous system. Our aim was to localize the enzymes in question, i.e., neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS), soluble guanylate cyclase (sGC), and cGMP-dependent kinase type I (cGK-I) in rat small intestine by indirect immunofluorescence. nNOS staining was found in neurons of the myenteric plexus and in varicose nerve fibers mainly in the circular muscle layer. The cells positive for neurokinin-1 (NK-1) receptor and c-kit (interstitial cells of Cajal, ICC) in the deep muscular plexus (DMP) did not show nNOS reactivity, but nNOS-positive nerve fibers were directly adjacent to them. sGC was found in flattened cells surrounding myenteric ganglia (periganglionic cells, PGC), in ICC of the DMP, faintly in smooth muscle cells (SMC), and in cells perivascularly scattered throughout the circular muscle layer. cGK-I immunoreactivity was found abundantly in PGC (which presumably are ICC), in ICC of DMP, in SMC of the innermost circular and longitudinal muscle layers, but less intensively in the outer circular layer. Weak cGK-I staining occurred in nerve cells within the myenteric and submucosal plexus. Conclusively the key enzymes of the NO signaling pathway are differentially distributed: Occurrence of nNOS exclusively in neurons and the presence of sGC and cGK-I predominantly in ICC suggest a sequence of neuronal NO release, activation of ICC, and consecutive smooth muscle relaxation. ICC of the DMP seem to be the primary targets for neurally released NO.

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