Advances in immunosuppressive therapy have renewed interest in small bowel transplantation. Little is known, however, about the functional capacity of transplanted intestine. To clarify the potential for normal function, we investigated whether elements of the enteric nervous system are preserved after denervation in our rat model of intestinal transplantation. We investigated whether VIP, a major peptide neurotransmitter of the enteric nervous system, and its receptors are preserved in the bowel after transplantation. In our model of transplantation, avascular fetal jejunum from term Fisher rats is transplanted to the subcutaneous tissues of host syngeneic rats. This "neogut" becomes vascularized and develops characteristics of native small bowel. VIP content was measured by RIA and the in situ distribution of VIP receptors was determined by the technique of receptor autoradiography. Neogut was studied 1 and 3 weeks after transplantation and compared with age-matched rat pup jejunum. Autoradiographs showed high silver grain density, representing VIP binding sites, in the mucosal layers of all tissues studied. VIP content in the transplanted bowel was comparable to that of native gut and showed a rise with developmental age similar to that of native gut. VIP levels (pmole/mg protein, x ± SEM) were neogut 1 week, 0.26 ± 0.14; jejunum 1 week, 0.25 ± 0.07; neogut 3 weeks, 0.60 ± 0.21; and jejunum 3 weeks, 0.69 ± 0.16. These results show that VIP receptors and content are preserved in this model of transplantation. This suggests that the enteric nervous system and receptors for peptide neurotransmitters remain intact after transplantation and may retain the potential for regulatory function.
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