1. The gastric corpus and antrum contain interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) within the tunica muscularis. We tested the hypothesis that ICC are involved in the generation and regeneration of electrical slow waves. 2. Normal postnatal development of slow wave activity was charaterized in tissues freshly removed from animals between birth and day 50 (D50). Slow wave amplitude and frequency increased during this period. Networks of myenteric ICC (IC-MY) were present in gastric muscles at birth and did not change significantly in appearance during the period of study as imaged by confocal immunofluorescence microscopy. 3. IC-MY networks were maintained and electrical rhythmicity developed in organ culture in a manner similar to normal postnatal development. Electrical activity was maintained for at least 48 days in culture. 4. Addition of a neutralizing antibody (ACK2) for the receptor tyrosine kinase, Kit, to the culture media caused progressive loss of Kit-immunoreactive cells. Loss of Kit-immunoreactive cells was associated with loss of slow wave activity. Most muscles became electrically quiescent after 3-4 weeks of exposure to ACK2. 5. In some muscle small clusters of Kit-immunoreactive IC-MY remained after culturing with ACK2. These muscles displayed slow wave activity but only in the immediate regions in which Kit-positive IC-MY remained. These data suggest that regions without Kit-immunoreactive cells cannot generate or regenerate slow waves. 6. After loss of Kit-immunoreactive cells, the muscles could not be paced by direct electrical stimulation. Stimulation with acetylcholine also failed to elicit slow waves. The data suggest that the generation of slow waves is an exclusive property of IC-MY; smooth muscle cells may not express the ionic apparatus necessary for generation of these events. 7. We conclude that IC-MY are an essential element in the spontaneous rhythmic electrical and contractile activity of gastric muscles. This class of ICC appears to generate slow wave activity and may provide a means for regeneration of slow waves.
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