Using the methods of immunocytochemistry and radioimmunoassay, five peptides (vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), substance P, somatostatin, met-enkephalin, and bombesin) have been found in the gall bladder and the biliary tracts of guinea pig and each of them possesses a characteristic distribution pattern. Networks of nerves containing each peptide were found in the smooth muscle, around blood vessels and, occasionally, in the lamina propria. The distribution of the peptide immunoreactive nerves in the gall bladder and biliary tract is similar to those found in the gut. Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (11 +/- 1.5 pmol/g in the sphincters, mean +/- SEM) and substance P (21.5 +/- 1.8 pmol/g in the common bile duct) were found to be the most abundant peptides and a few VIP and substance P immunoreactive neurones were localised in the ganglionated plexus. Bombesin immunoreactive nerves were mainly seen in the sphincter of Oddi, where the mean concentration of extractable bombesin was 14.6 +/- 2 pmol/g. Somatostatin immunoreactive mucosal endocrine cells were identified in the epithelium of the common bile duct and the sphincter. The extractable somatostatin in these regions were 76 +/- 19 pmol/g and 162 +/- 30 pmol/g respectively.
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