American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2008, Vol.103(4), pp.856-864
BACKGROUND: The etiology of achalasia is still unknown. The current theories of chronic inflammation leading to autoimmune response with destruction and loss of the inhibitory myenteric ganglion cells enlighten its pathogenesis in a limited way only. Interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) have been shown to be involved in nitrergic neurotransmission of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). AIM: To investigate the significance of ICC and neuronal nitric oxide synthase (n-NOS) in esophageal wall tissue of patients undergoing surgery for achalasia. METHODS: In 53 patients with a median age of 45 (6–78) yr undergoing surgery for achalasia, the immunoreactivity of ICC (CD117/c-kit) and n-NOS was assessed. In 42 patients, biopsies were taken from the LES high-pressure zone during Heller myotomy, whereas in 11 patients with end-stage achalasia and a decompensated megaesophagus, the complete esophagus was resected. A semiquantitative analysis was carried out and ICC and n-NOS impairments were classified into four grades. Staining intensity was correlated with preoperative clinical, radiologic, and manometric findings and with long-term postoperative Eckardt score. RESULTS: Grade III/IV ICC reduction (severe reduction to complete loss) was seen in 59.5% of all biopsy specimens of the LES high-pressure zone. Patients with grade III/IV ICC reduction had a significantly longer duration of achalasia symptoms (3 [0–43] yr) than patients with minor to marked (grade I/II) impairment (1 [0–16] yr, P= 0.028). A majority (72.5%) of tissue samples revealed severe reduction to complete loss of n-NOS immunoreactivity. The preoperative Eckardt score was statistically significantly different between patients with grade I/II and those with grade III/IV n-NOS reductions (P= 0.031). CD117 (c-kit) positivity was statistically significantly correlated with n-NOS staining intensity (correlation coefficient r= 0.781, P 〈 0.0001). CONCLUSION: The present results suggest that in the pathogenesis of achalasia, especially in the development of the LES high-pressure zone, depletion of ICC networks and potential changes in the electrical activity of smooth muscle cells may play a crucial role. The reduction in CD117-positive ICC in a few patients also seemed to be of relevance, even if the cells of Auerbachʼs plexus were unscathed. The associated reduced NOS release might underlie the profound ICC impairment and could possibly be responsible for the lack of LES relaxation, because of missing inhibitory neurotransmission. It is unclear, however, whether the ICC loss is primarily caused by the accelerated attrition of mature cells or their impaired regeneration.
Achalasia -- Development And Progression ; Achalasia -- Care And Treatment ; Neurons ; Nitric Oxide;
View record at Wolters Kluwer Health Ovid Technologies