The discrete functional classes of enteric neurons in the mammalian gastrointestinal tract have been successfully distinguished on the basis of the unique combination of molecules and enzymes in their cell bodies (" chemical coding"). Whether the same chemical coding exists in varicose axons of different functional classes has not been systematically tested. In this study, we quantified the coexistence of markers that define classes of nerve cell bodies in the myenteric plexus of the guinea-pig ileum, in varicose axons of the same neurons. Profound differences between the combinations of immunohistochemical markers in myenteric nerve cell bodies and in their varicosities were identified. These discrepancies were particularly notable for classes of neurons that had previously been classified as cholinergic, based on immunoreactivity for choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) in their cell bodies. To detect cholinergic varicose axons of enteric neurons in this study, we used antiserum against the vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT). ChAT-immunoreactivity has been reported to be consistently co-localized with 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) in interneuronal cell bodies, yet only 29 ± 5% (n= 4) of 5-HT-immunoreactive varicosities contained vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT). Somatostatin coexists with ChAT-immunoreactivity in a class of descending interneuron but only 21 ± 1% (n= 4) of somatostatin-immunoreactive varicosities were VAChT-immunoreactive. Comparable discrepancies were also noted for non-cholinergic markers. The results suggest that chemical coding of cell bodies does not necessarily reflect chemical coding of varicose axon terminals and that the assumption that nerve cell bodies that contain ChAT are functionally cholinergic may be questionable.
- Choline acetyltransferase
- Enteric nervous system
- Vesicular acetylcholine transporter