Interstitial cells of Cajal generate a rhythmic pacemaker current
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Networks of interstitial cells of Cajal embedded in the musculature of the gastrointestinal tract are involved in the generation of electrical pacemaker activity for gastrointestinal motility. This pacemaker activity manifests itself as rhythmic slow waves in membrane potential, and controls the frequency and propagation characteristics of gut contractile activity. Mice that lack a functional Kit receptor fail to develop the network of interstitial cells of Cajal associated with Auerbach's plexus in the mouse small intestine and do not generate slow wave activity. These cells could provide an essential component of slow wave activity (for example, a biochemical trigger that would be transferred to smooth muscle cells), or provide an actual pacemaker current that could initiate slow waves. Here we provide direct evidence that a single cell, identified as an interstitial cell of Cajal by light microscopy, electron microscopy and expression of Kit mRNA, generates spontaneous contractions and a rhythmic inward current that is insensitive to L-type calcium channel blockers. Identification of the pacemaker of gut motility will aid in the elucidation of the pathophysiology of intestinal motor disorders, and provide a target cell for pharmacological treatment.
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