Gut 47:653-660 doi:10.1136/gut.47.5.653
  • Motility and visceral sensation

Restricted diet rescues rat enteric motor neurones from age related cell death


BACKGROUND Alone among autonomic neurones, enteric neurones are known to be vulnerable to age related cell death; over 50% may be lost in aging rodents. A previous study demonstrated unexpectedly that neurones of the myenteric plexus from rats fed a restricted diet appeared not to suffer from extensive cell death in contrast with previous studies of ad libitum fed animals.

AIMS To compare myenteric neurone numbers in the ileum of young and aging male Sprague-Dawley rats fed either ad libitum or a restricted diet.

METHODS Neurones were counted in whole mount preparations of rat ileum stained immunohistochemically for the pan-neuronal marker PGP9.5, for choline acetyltransferase, or for nitric oxide synthase, or with NADH or NADPH histochemistry.

RESULTS Neurone numbers in the rat myenteric plexus were substantially affected by the dietary regimen: ad libitum feeding (50–60 g per day of standard rat chow) resulted in the death of about 50% of myenteric neurones in 24 month Sprague-Dawley rats, while numbers were unchanged when the daily dietary intake was halved between the ages of six and 24 months. Animals fed a double restricted diet (15 g per day) showed no cell loss at 30 months, as well as the predicted increase in longevity. Neurone loss was largely complete by 16 months in ad libitum fed animals. Numbers of cholinergic (possibly motor) neurones, as demonstrated by choline acetyltransferase immunohistochemistry, were substantially reduced in ad libitum fed aging rats but not in animals fed a restricted diet. Loss of cholinergic neurones after ad libitum feeding was confirmed by reduced numbers of neurones of a size range matching that of cholinergic neurones.

CONCLUSIONS Ad libitum feeding of adult rats has adverse effects on the survival of myenteric neurones, neurone loss commencing before 16 months of age. Cholinergic neurones appear to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of diet. Restricting dietary intake from six months of age prevents neurone loss almost entirely up to 30 months of age in these rats.


  • * Present address: Department of Preclinical Veterinary Sciences, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Sciences, Summerhall Place, Edinburgh EH9 1QH, UK

  • T Cowen and RJR Johnson contributed equally to the study.

  • Abbreviations used in this paper:
    choline acetyltransferase
    nitric oxide synthase
    nitric oxide
    phosphate buffered saline