PURPOSE: We describe the presence of interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) throughout the wall of the guinea pig bladder. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Bladders obtained from male guinea pigs were prepared for immunohistochemical investigations using various primary antibodies, including the specific ICC marker c-kit (Gibco BRL, Grand Island, New York). Enzymatically dispersed cells with a branched morphology were identified as ICC using anti-c-kit. They were loaded with fluo-4acetoxymethyl (Molecular Probes, Eugene, Oregon) and studied using confocal laser scanning microscopy. RESULTS: Anti-c-kit labeling demonstrated that ICC were oriented in parallel with the smooth muscle bundles that run diagonally throughout the bladder. Double labeling with anti-smooth muscle myosin (Sigma Chemical Co., St. Louis, Missouri) revealed that ICC were located on the boundary of smooth muscle bundles. When anti-c-kit was used in combination with the general neuronal antibody protein gene product 9.5 (Ultraclone Ltd., Isle of Wight, United Kingdom) or anti-neuronal nitric oxide synthase, it was noted that there was a close association between nerves and ICC. Enzymatic dissociation of cells from tissue pieces yielded a heterogeneous population of cells containing typical spindle-shaped smooth muscle cells and branched cells resembling ICC from other preparations. The latter could be identified immunohistochemically as ICC using anti-c-kit, whereas the majority of spindle-shaped cells were not Kit positive. Branched cells responded to the application of carbachol by firing Ca2+ waves and they were often spontaneously active. CONCLUSIONS: ICC are located on the boundary of smooth muscle bundles in the guinea pig bladder. They fire Ca2+ waves in response to cholinergic stimulation and can be spontaneously active, suggesting that they could act as pacemakers or intermediaries in the transmission of nerve signals to smooth muscle cells.
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