Background and Aims: Development of interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) requires signaling via Kit receptors. Kit is activated by stem cell factor (SCF), but the source of SCF in the bowel wall is unclear and controversy exists about whether enteric neurons express the SCF required for ICC development. Methods: Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) knockout mice, which lack enteric neurons throughout most of the gut, were used to determine whether neurons are necessary for ICC development. ICC distributions were determined with Kit immunofluorescence, and function of ICC was determined by intracellular electrical recording. Results: ICC were normally distributed throughout the gastrointestinal tracts of GDNF-/- mice. Intracellular recordings from aganglionic gastrointestinal muscles showed normal slow wave activity at birth in the stomach and small intestine. Slow waves developed normally in aganglionic segments of small bowel placed into organ culture at birth. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction showed similar expression of SCF in the muscles of animals with and without enteric neurons. Expression of SCF was demonstrated in isolated intestinal smooth muscle cells. Conclusions: These data suggest that enteric neurons are not required for the development of functional ICC. The circular smooth muscle layer, which develops before ICC, may be the source of SCF required for ICC development.
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