Distribution of peptide-containing nerve fibres in achalasia of the oesophagus

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    Abstract In this study the innervation of the normal human oesophagus was compared with samples taken from 12 patients undergoing Heller's cardiomyotomy for achalasia. The distribution of all nerve fibres in the oesophageal wall was revealed by immunoreactivity to neuron specific enolase and subpopulations of nerve fibres were revealed by immunoreactivity to vasoactive intestinal peptide, neuropeptide Y, enkephalin and substance P. In healthy oesophagus, many nerve fibres immunoreactive for vasoactive intestinal peptide and neuropeptide Y were present in the circular and longitudinal muscle layers of the oesophageal wall and in the cardia of the stomach, whereas fibres immunoreactive for enkephalin and substance P were uncommon. Neuropeptide Y-reactive fibres were commonly seen around blood vessels. In the myenteric plexus cell bodies reactive for vasoactive intestinal peptide and neuropeptide Y were prevalent, as were varicose and non-varicose fibres. In contrast, samples from patients with achalasia revealed few nerve fibres immunoreactive for vasoactive intestinal peptide or neuropeptide Y in either circular or longitudinal muscle, suggesting damage to the inhibitory motor neurons to the muscle layers. Very few fibres were found that were reactive for neuron-specific enolase, indicating that other fibre populations (e.g. excitatory cholinergic motor neurons) are also damaged in achalasia. These abnormalities were observed in biopsies from both the constricted and dilated portions of the oesophagus, but the pattern of innervation in the gastric cardia was normal. Myenteric ganglion cells were seen in the oesophagus in only two patients and varicose nerve fibres in the myenteric plexus were uncommon. Neuropeptide Y-reactive perivascular nerve fibres were still found in achalasia as well as non-varicose nerve fibres in the myenteric plexus. These findings indicate damage to all intrinsic neurons in the oesophageal wall in achalasia; however, extrinsic nerve fibres appear to be intact.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)478-485
    Number of pages8
    JournalJournal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology (Australia)
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - May 1996


    • Achalasia
    • Enteric nervous system
    • Neuropeptide
    • Oesophagus


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