Interstitial Cajal-like cells (ICLCs) are speculated to be pacemakers in smooth muscle tissues. While the human thoracic duct (TD) is spontaneously active, the origin of this activity is unknown. We hypothesized that ICLCs could be present in the TD and using histological techniques, immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence we have investigated the presence of ICLCs, protein markers for ICLCs and the cellular morphology of the human TD. Transmission electron microscopy was employed to investigate ultrastructure. Methylene blue staining, calcium-dependent fluorophores and confocal microscopy were used to identify ICLCs in live tissue. Methylene blue stained cells with morphology suggestive of ICLCs in the TD. Immunoreactivity localized the ICLC protein markers c-kit, CD34 and vimentin to many cells and processes associated with smooth muscle cells (SMCs): coexpression of c-kit with vimentin or CD34 was observed in some cells. Electron microscopy analysis confirmed ICLCs as a major cell type of the human TD. Lymphatic ICLCs possess caveolae, dense bands, a patchy basal lamina, intermediate filaments and specific junctions to SMCs. ICLCs were ultrastructurally differentiable from other interstitial cells observed: fibroblasts, mast cells, macrophages and pericytes. Lymphatic ICLCs were localized to the subendothelial region of the wall as well as in intimate association with smooth muscle bundles throughout the media. ICLCs were morphologically distinct with multiple processes and also spindle shapes. Confocal imaging with calcium-dependent fluorophores corroborated cell morphology and localization observed in fixed tissues. Lymphatic ICLCs thus constitute a significant cell type of the human TD and physically interact with lymphatic SMCs.
Cells, Tissues, Organs, 2012, Vol 197, Issue 2, p. 145-158
Human thoracic duct; Interstitial cajal-like cells; Lymph pump; Telocytes; Ultrastructure; Journal Article; Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't