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Smoothelin expression in the gastrointestinal tract: implication in colonic inertia.


Colonic inertia is a frustrating motility disorder to patients, clinicians, and pathologists. The pathogenesis is largely unknown. The aims of this study were to: (1) characterize the expression of smoothelin, a novel smooth muscle-specific contractile protein expressed only by terminally differentiated smooth muscle cells, in the normal gastrointestinal (GI) tract; and (2) determine whether smoothelin is aberrantly expressed in patients with colonic inertia. A total of 57 resections of the normal GI tract (distal esophagus to left colon) were obtained from patients without GI motor dysfunction. Sixty-one colon resections were obtained from patients with a clinical diagnosis of colonic inertia. Smoothelin immunostaining was conducted on full-thickness tissue sections. In the nondysmotile controls, strong and diffuse cytoplasmic staining for smoothelin was observed in both the inner circular and outer longitudinal layers of the muscularis propria (MP) throughout the entire GI tract. The muscularis mucosae (MM) and muscular vessel walls were either completely negative or only patchily and weakly stained. The 1 exception to this pattern was observed in the distal esophagus, in which the MM was also diffusely and strongly stained. In cases with colonic inertia, a moderate to marked reduction of smoothelin immunoreactivity was observed in 15 of 61 (24.6%) colon resections, selectively seen in the outer layer of the MP. The data demonstrate that smoothelin is differentially expressed in the MP and MM of the normal GI tract and suggest that defective smoothelin expression may play a role in the pathogenesis of colonic inertia in a subset of patients.

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