The present study demonstrates light and electron microscopic changes in neurons in the myenteric plexus of the rat ileum following four-hour ischemia. Macroscopically, an intestinal constriction occurred at the damaged portion at three weeks after ischemia; the segment oral to the constriction markedly swelled at four weeks. In light microscopy, at three weeks after ischemia, the myenteric neurons appeared spongy or foamy, containing many vacuoles in their somatic cytoplasm. At four weeks, the neuronal cytoplasm and nerve fiber bundles had disintegrated to form vacant spaces in the myenteric plexus. The neuronal nucleus of the damaged plexus did not show positive nick-end labeling. In electron microscopy, neuronal cytoplasm revealed degenerative signs already at one week after ischemia: a distended endoplasmic reticulum and swollen mitochondria with fragmentary cristae. The nerve fibers also showed destruction of the mitochondria, and degenerative changes in the postsynaptic sites appeared earlier than the presynaptic terminals. The results suggest that intestinal ischemia causes delayed neuronal death, which differs from the apoptotic process previously demonstrated in the ischemia-damaged brain.
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