Ultrastructure of interstitial cells of Cajal in the canine distal esophagus
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The ultrastructure of canine distal esophagus was studied focusing on interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) and their relationships to nerves and muscle. The distal esophagus consisted of two muscle layers composed of intertwining skeletal and smooth muscle bundles. The ICC formed an interconnecting network and were an integral part of these structures. The ICC communicated with one another and with adjacent smooth muscle cells through numerous gap junctions. The morphology of individual ICC resembled that observed in other gut regions. All interstitial cells were densely innervated. The highest density of ICC, just proximal to the lower esophageal sphincter, coincided with the previously reported highest incidence of occurrence of electrical slow wave type action potentials. Examination of a large number of structural associations of ICC led us to conclude that in the distal esophagus, two networks of ICC and nerves exist, one associated with the inner muscle layer, another associated with the outer muscle layer. These networks are not sheet-like structures, such as the network of ICC in the myenteric plexus or deep muscular plexus of the small intestine, but are three dimensional and are interspersed throughout both muscle layers. The networks do not extend into Auerbach's plexus. The main branches of the networks run along the long axis of the esophagus and seem ideally suited to facilitate communication in this direction. These observations suggest that esophageal interstitial cells are structurally organized in such a manner that they may play a role in pacemaking and neural control of esophageal motility.
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