The mechanism underlying spontaneous pacemaker potential in the uterus is not clearly understood. Several spontaneously active smooth muscles have interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs) or ICC-like cells. We therefore examined cells from freshly dispersed uterine muscle strips (from pregnant human and rat myometrium) and in situ uterine preparations to determine the cell types present. Both preparations revealed numerous ICC-like cells; they were multipolar, with spider-like projections and enlarged central regions. These cells were readily distinguished from uterine myocytes by their morphology and ultrastructure, i.e., no myofilaments, numerous mitochondria, caveolae, and filaments. In addition, the ICC-like cells were noncontractile. These cells were negative to c-kit, a classic marker for ICCs. They stained positive for the intermediate filament, vimentin, a marker for cells of mesenchymal origin but not differentiated myocytes. The ICC-like cells had a more or less stable resting membrane potential of −58 ± 7 mV compared with smooth-muscle cells, −65 ± 13 mV, and produced outward current in response to voltage clamp pulses. However, in contrast with uterine myocytes, inward currents were not observed. This is the first description of ICC-like cells in myometrium and their role in the uterus is discussed, as possible inhibitors of intrinsic smooth-muscle activity.
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