Plasticity of colonic enteric nervous system following spinal cord injury in male and female rats

Claire M. Werner, Lisa B. Willing, Hannah J. Goudsward, Amanda R. McBride, Salvatore L. Stella, Gregory M. Holmes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Neurogenic bowel is a dysmotility disorder following spinal cord injury (SCI) that negatively impacts quality of life, social integration, and physical health. Colonic transit is directly modulated by the enteric nervous system. Interstitial Cells of Cajal (ICC) distributed throughout the small intestine and colon serve as specialized pacemaker cells, generating rhythmic electrical slow waves within intestinal smooth muscle, or serve as an interface between smooth muscle cells and enteric motor neurons of the myenteric plexus. Interstitial Cells of Cajal loss has been reported for other preclinical models of dysmotility, and our previous experimental SCI study provided evidence of reduced excitatory and inhibitory enteric neuronal count and smooth muscle neural control. Methods: Immunohistochemistry for the ICC-specific marker c-Kit was utilized to examine neuromuscular remodeling of the distal colon in male and female rats with experimental SCI. Key Results: Myenteric plexus ICC (ICC-MP) exhibited increased cell counts 3 days following SCI in male rats, but did not significantly increase in females until 3 weeks after SCI. On average, ICC-MP total primary arborization length increased significantly in male rats at 3-day, 3-week, and 6-week time points, whereas in females, this increase occurred most frequently at 6 weeks post-SCI. Conversely, circular muscle ICC (ICC-CM) did not demonstrate post-SCI changes. Conclusions and Inferences: These data demonstrate resiliency of the ICC-MP in neurogenic bowel following SCI, unlike seen in other related disease states. This plasticity underscores the need to further understand neuromuscular changes driving colonic dysmotility after SCI in order to advance therapeutic targets for neurogenic bowel treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14646
JournalNeurogastroenterology and Motility
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Gastroenterology

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