Kit-like immunopositive cells in sheep mesenteric lymphatic vessels
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Recent electrophysiological studies have suggested that there is a subpopulation of cells in lymphatic vessels which act as pacemakers controlling the characteristic spontaneous contractile activity in this tissue. In this study, electron microscopy and immunohistochemical techniques were used on sheep mesenteric lymphatic vessels to investigate the morphology of the cells comprising the lymphatic wall. The smooth muscle cells were not orientated in circular and longitudinal layers as is seen in the gastrointestinal tract, but were arranged in bundles which interlock and cross over in a basket-weave fashion. Antibodies to Kit and vimentin, which are widely used to label specialised pacemaking cells in the gastrointestinal tract (known as interstitial cells of Cajal), demonstrated the existence of an axially orientated subpopulation of cells lying between the endothelium and the bulk of the smooth muscle. Examination of this area using electron microscopy showed cells which were electron dense compared to the underlying smooth muscle and contained caveolae, Golgi complexes, mitochondria, 10-nm filaments, a well-developed endoplasmic reticulum and a basal lamina. The smooth muscle cells typically contained caveolae, dense bodies, mitochondria, abundant filaments, sER and basal laminae. Cells dispersed for patch-clamp studies were also stained for vimentin and myosin. Myosin-staining cells had the typical spindle appearance of smooth muscle cells whereas the vimentin-positive cells could either be branched or more closely resemble the smooth muscle cells. The present study provides the first morphological evidence that specialised cells exist within the vascular system which have the ultrastructural characteristics of pacemaker cells in other tissues and are vimentin and Kit positive.
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