The search for the origin of rhythmicity in intestinal contraction; from tissue to single cells
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More than a century ago, rhythmic propulsive contractile activity was observed in the intestine after blockade of nerve conduction, thus demonstrating a form of peristalsis that appeared to be under myogenic control. During this century, light and electron microscopic investigations provided the hypothesis that interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) could be the cells of origin for this rhythmicity. In recent years, physiological studies demonstrated a link between the presence of electrical slow wave activity and the presence of ICC. The recognition that the ICC cell membrane harbours the Kit protein sparked rapid advancement in ICC research, and has been essential in the identification of ICC in tissue and in culture through Kit immunohistochemistry and kit mRNA reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). With these techniques, electrophysiology was carried out on positively identified single ICC in culture. These methods revealed that single ICC generate spontaneous rhythmic inward currents and slow waves in membrane potential, thus providing strong evidence that ICC generate the electrical pacemaker activity for the gut musculature.
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