Background & Aims: Like the heart, intestinal smooth muscles exhibit electrical rhythmicity, which originates in pacemaker cells surrounding the myenteric plexus, called interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC-MY). In large mammals, ICC also line septa (ICC-SEP) between circular muscle (CM) bundles, suggesting they might be necessary for activating muscle bundles. It is important to determine their functional significance, because a loss of ICC in humans is associated with disordered motility. Our aims were therefore to determine the role of ICC-SEP in activating the thick CM in the human jejunum. Methods: The mucosa and submucosa were removed and muscle strips were cut and pinned in cross-section so that the ICC-MY and ICC-SEP networks and the CM could be readily visualized. The ICC networks and CM were loaded with the Ca2+ indicator fluo-4, and pacemaker and muscle activity was recorded at 36.5 ± 0.5°C. Results: Ca2+ imaging revealed that pacemaker activity in human ICC-MY can entrain ICC-SEP to excite CM bundles. Unlike the heart, pacemaker activity in ICC-MY varied in amplitude, propagation distance, and direction, leading to a sporadic activation of ICC-SEP. Conclusions: ICC-SEP form a crucial conduction pathway for spreading excitation deep into muscle bundles of the human jejunum, necessary for motor patterns underlying mixing. A loss of these cells could severely affect motor activity.
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