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      Evolution of the Diffuse Neuroendocrine System – Clear Cells and Cloudy Origins

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          As early as the 2nd century, Galen proposed that ‘vital spirits’ in the blood regulated human bodily functions. However, the concept of hormonal activity required a further 18 centuries to develop and relied upon the identification of ‘ductless glands’, Schwann’s cell and the recognition by Bayliss and Starling of chemical messengers. Bernard’s introduction of ‘internal secretion’ and its role in homeostasis laid a physiological basis for the development of endocrinology. Kocher and Addison recognized the consequences of ablation of glands by disease or surgery and identified their necessary role in life. Detailed descriptions of the endocrine cells of the gut and pancreas and their putative function were provided by Heidenhain, Langerhans, Laguesse and Sharpey-Schäfer. Despite the dominant 19th century concept of nervism (Pavlov), in 1902, Starling and Bayliss using Hardy’s term ‘hormonos’ described secretin and in so doing, established the gut as an endocrine organ. Thus, nervism was supplanted by hormonal regulation of function and thereafter numerous bioactive gut peptides and amines were identified. At virtually the same time (1892), Ramón y Cajal of Madrid reported the existence of a group of specialized intestinal cells that he referred to as ‘interstitial cells’. Cajal postulated that they might function as an interface between the neural system and the smooth muscles of the gut. Some 22 years later, Keith suggested that their function might be analogous to the electroconductive system of the heart and proposed their role as components of an intestinal pacemaker system. This prescient hypothesis was subsequently confirmed in 1982 by Thuneberg and a decade later Maede identified c-Kit as a critical molecular regulator in the development and function of the interstitial cells of Cajal and further confirmed the commonality of neural and endocrine cells. The additional characterization of the endocrine regulatory system of the GI tract was implemented when Feyrter (1938) using Masson’s staining techniques, identified ‘helle Zellen’ within the pancreatic ductal system and the intestinal epithelium and proposed the concept of a diffuse neuroendocrine system. Pearse subsequently grouped the various cells belonging to that system under the rubric of a unifying APUD series. Currently, the gut neuroendocrine system is viewed as a syncytium of neural and endocrine cells sharing a common cell lineage whose phenotypic regulation is as yet unclear. Their key role in the regulation of gastrointestinal function is, however, indubitable.

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          Most cited references 27

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          The cytochemistry and ultrastructure of polypeptide hormone-producing cells of the APUD series and the embryologic, physiologic and pathologic implications of the concept.

           Lisa Pearse (1969)
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            Neuroendocrine-immune interactions.

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              The functional characterization of normal and neoplastic human enterochromaffin cells.

              Neuroendocrine regulation of small intestinal (SI) function is poorly understood because pure neuroendocrine cells are unavailable, whereas the biological basis of SI carcinoid tumors is unknown because neoplastic human enterochromaffin (EC) cells are unavailable. The objective of this study was to define the secretory regulation and transcriptome of naive and neoplastic SI neuroendocrine cells. EC cells from human ilea were isolated and purified, and a malignant EC cell carcinoid cell line (KRJ-I) was characterized. Human ilea from right hemicolectomies were pronase/collagenase digested and Nycodenz gradient centrifuged, and EC cells were fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) sorted after acridine orange labeling. Enrichment was defined by immunostaining, gene expression, serotonin (5-HT) content, and real-time RT-PCR. Naive FACS-sorted EC and KRJ-I cells were cultured, and 5-HT secretion was measured after stimulation with forskolin, isoproterenol, acetylcholine, gamma-aminobutyric acid A (GABA(A)), pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP)-38, and gastrin. Normal and neoplastic EC cell transcriptomes were acquired by Affymetrix profiling (U133A). FACS produced 100 +/- 0.3% (chromogranin A staining) and 99 +/- 0.7% pure EC cells by immunostaining for tryptophan hydroxylase with greater than 67-fold enrichment and a 5-HT content of 180 +/- 18 ng/mg protein (mucosa, 3.5 +/- 0.9). Forskolin- and isoproterenol-stimulated 5-HT secretion was 10-100 times more potent for naive cells (EC(50), 1.8 x 10(-9) m; 5.1 x 10(-9) m) than neoplastic cells (EC(50), 2.1 x 10(-7) m; 8.1 x 10(-8) m), but the effect of PACAP-38 was similar (EC(50), 1 x 10(-7) m). Isoproterenol stimulated cAMP levels 1.6 +/- 0.1-fold vs. basal (EC(50), 2.7 x 10(-9) m). Acetylcholine inhibited naive EC cell 5-HT secretion more potently than neoplastic (IC(50), 3.2 x 10(-9) vs. 1.6 x 10(-7) m), whereas GABA(A) was more potent in neoplastic cells (IC(50), 3.9 x 10(-10) vs. 4.4 x 10(-9) m). Octreotide inhibited naive, but not neoplastic, basal 5-HT secretion. Gastrin had no effect on 5-HT secretion. Comparison of naive and neoplastic transcriptomes revealed shared neuroendocrine and EC cell-specific marker genes. Real-time PCR confirmed that expression of adrenergic (beta1), somatostatinergic (SST(R)2), and neural (VPAC(1) and GABA(A)) receptors occurred on both cell types, but PACAP type 1 (PAC(1)) and cholecystokinin type 2 (CCK(2)) were undetectable. The putative carcinoid malignancy genes (MTA1 and MAGE-D2) were unique to the neoplastic EC cell transcriptome. These data support novel methodology to purify live human EC cells for functional characterization and transcriptome assessment, which will allow identification of new targets to control the secretion and proliferation of SI carcinoids.

                Author and article information

                S. Karger AG
                January 2007
                09 November 2006
                : 84
                : 2
                : 69-82
                Gastrointestinal Pathobiology Research Group, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn., USA
                96997 Neuroendocrinology 2006;84:69–82
                © 2006 S. Karger AG, Basel

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                Page count
                Figures: 7, References: 118, Pages: 14
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