- The network of interstitial cells of Cajal associated with Auerbach's (myenteric) plexus in the canine colon was investigated to determine its role in facilitating communication between circular and longitudinal muscle layers. Electrical coupling between the muscle layers was demonstrated by propagating extracellularly evoked electrotonic pulses from circular muscle cells to nearby longitudinal muscle cells. The likelihood of cytoplasmic continuity across Auerbach's plexus was further demonstrated by the ability of neurobiotin to spread between the interstitial cells and the circular and longitudinal muscle cells. Importantly, direct neurobiotin spread between circular and longitudinal muscle cells was not observed even when they were in close proximity as determined by confocal microscopy. When neurobiotin did spread across the two muscle layers, the intervening interstitial cells were always neurobiotin-positive. In regions where circular and longitudinal muscle cells approach each other closely, electron microscopy revealed the presence of close appositions between interstitial cells and smooth muscle cells. Gap junctions between interstitial cells and smooth muscle cells of both layers, as judged by electron microscopy, were extremely rare. Neither gap junctions nor close appositions were observed between longitudinal and circular muscle cells. The special arrangement for electrotonic coupling across Auerbach's plexus through interstitial cells of Cajal suggests controlled coupling between the two muscle layers, explaining the preservation of their distinct electrical activities.