Roles of interstitial cells of Cajal in regulating gastrointestinal motility: In vitro versus in vivo studies

Jieyun Yin, Jiande D.Z. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The aim of this article is to provide a better understanding of the roles of interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) in regulating gastrointestinal motility by reviewing in vitro and in vivo physiological motility studies. Based on the in vitro studies, ICC are proposed to have the following functions: to generate slow waves, to mediate neurotransmission between the enteric nerves and the gastrointestinal muscles and to act as mechanoreceptors. However, there is limited evidence available for these hypotheses from the in vivo motility studies. In this review, we first introduce the major subtypes of ICC and their established functions. Three Kit mutant mouse and rodent models are presented and the loss of ICC subtypes in these mutants is reviewed. The physiological motility findings from various in vitroand in vivo experiments are discussed to give a critical review on the roles of ICC in generating slow waves, regulating gastrointestinal motility, mediating neural transmission and serving as mechanoreceptors. It is concluded that the role of ICC as pacemakers may be well established, but other cells may also be involved in the generation of slow waves; the theory that ICC are mediators of neurotransmission is challenged by the majority of the in vivo motility studies; the hypothesis that ICC are mechanoreceptors has not found supportive evidence from the in vivo studies yet. More studies are needed to explain discrepancies in motility findings between the in vitro and in vivo experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1118-1129
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Electrogastrography
  • Emptying
  • Gastrointestinal motility
  • ICC
  • Neurotransmission
  • Slow waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Cell Biology


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