To determine whether decreased tissue vasoactive intestinal polypeptide levels might affect inhibitory neural input, fresh colonic specimens were obtained from patients with Crohn's colitis (n = 7) and normal subjects (n = 13). Immunoreactive vasoactive intestinal polypeptide levels were measured in the muscularis externa by radioimmunoassay and localized in tissue sections by immunostaining. Circular muscle strips were maintained in an organ bath; inhibitory junction potentials evoked by short- and long-duration field stimulation and resting membrane potentials were recorded using intracellular impalements. In Crohn's colitis, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide levels displayed a bimodal distribution in which 3 specimens had vasoactive intestinal polypeptide levels ≥4 SE lower than the mean in normal specimens. In 3 specimens from Crohn's colitis with decreased vasoactive intestinal polypeptide levels, immunoreactive material was absent from the circular muscle layer and the myenteric plexus. Mean resting membrane potentials, mean amplitude of inhibitory junction potentials evoked by short-duration stimulation, and mean amplitude of initial inhibitory junction potentials evoked by long-duration stimulation were not different between the two groups. However, the mean amplitude of the 60th inhibitory junction potential during prolonged stimulation was decreased (p < 0.01) in Crohn's colitis (6 mV) compared with normal specimens (11 mV). These results show that diminished neural input to circular muscle in Crohn's colitis was associated with decreased extractable vasoactive intestinal poly-peptide levels and decreased staining of nerve fibers containing vasoactive intestinal polypeptide.
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