The distribution, colocalisation, and interconnections of nitrinergic and peptidergic neurons and nerves in the human oesophagus were examined. Cryosections of surgically resected tissues from eight subjects were studied with indirect immunofluorescence for the presence of 11 neuropeptides and neuron specific enolase. After immunohistochemistry, nitric oxide synthase was shown on the same sections with the beta nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) diaphorase histochemical reaction. The histochemical findings were verified immunohistochemically on other sections with an antiserum against nitric oxide synthase. Most myenteric neurons (55%) were nitrinergic. Most (96%) received terminations positive for vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP) (80%), and galanin (59%). The neuronal somata of 14% also contained VIP, while 10% had galanin. Of the NADPH-diaphorase containing fibers seen in the muscle layers, many had closely associated VIP and galanin, but only rarely CGRP and substance P. Thus, despite abundant representation of both peptidergic and nitrinergic systems in oesophageal smooth muscle, only VIP and galanin colocalised to any significant extent with the nitrinergic elements. These findings provide morphological support for the role of nitric oxide as the non-adrenergic non-cholinergic inhibitory mediator in the human oesophagus and for its possible interactive role with the peptidergic system.
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