Gastroenteropathy causes considerable morbidity in patients with diabetes mellitus and represents a major healthcare burden. Current treatments are largely symptomatic and frequently ineffective. Development of new therapeutic options is hampered by poor understanding of the underlying pathomechanisms. Experimental studies and sparse human data indicate that diabetic gastroenteropathy is multifactorial and involves not only parasympathetic and sympathetic autonomic nerves, but also enteric neurons, smooth muscle cells and interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC). ICC are mesenchymal cells that occur throughout the muscular coat of the gastrointestinal tract and provide functions critical for normal gastrointestinal motility including generation and propagation of electrical slow waves and mediation of bidirectional communication between the autonomic nervous system and smooth muscle cells. Through these functions, and in concert with other cell types of the gastrointestinal muscles, ICC support basic gastrointestinal functions such as digestion, absorption and waste removal. Loss or dysfunction of ICC in various dysmotilities and their animal models has been shown to lead to gastric dysrhythmias, gastroparesis, slow intestinal transit, impaired neuroeffector mechanisms and altered visceral afferent signalling that are considered hallmarks of diabetic gastroenteropathy. These findings and an increasing body of evidence indicating disruptions of ICC networks in diabetes suggest that the loss of ICC in this disorder is probably of functional significance and could even be a major pathogenetic factor. Future research should focus on the identification of the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying ICC loss in diabetes and the translation of the experimental findings into treatments.
- Neuromuscular neurotransmission
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems