Factors providing trophic support to diverse enteric neuron subtypes remain poorly understood. We tested the hypothesis that hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and the HGF receptor MET might support some types of enteric neurons. HGF and MET are expressed in fetal and adult enteric nervous system. In vitro, HGF increased enteric neuron differentiation and neurite length, but only if vanishingly small amounts (1 pg/ml) of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor were included in culture media. HGF effects were blocked by phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase inhibitor and by MET-blocking antibody. Both of these inhibitors and MEK inhibition reduced neurite length. In adult mice, MET was restricted to a subset of calcitonin gene-related peptide-immunoreactive (IR) myenteric plexus neurons thought to be intrinsic primary afferent neurons (IPANs). Conditional MET kinase domain inactivation (Metfl/fl; Wnt1Cre+) caused a dramatic loss of myenteric plexus MET-IR neurites and 1–1′-dioctodecyl-3,3,3′,3′-tetramethylindocarbocyamine perchlorate (DiI) labeling suggested reduced MET-IR neurite length. In vitro, Metfl/fl; Wnt1Cre+ mouse bowel had markedly reduced peristalsis in response to mucosal deformation, but normal response to radial muscle stretch. However, whole-bowel transit, small-bowel transit, and colonic-bead expulsion were normal in Metfl/fl; Wnt1Cre+ mice. Finally, Metfl/fl; Wnt1Cre+ mice had more bowel injury and reduced epithelial cell proliferation compared with WT animals after dextran sodium sulfate treatment. These results suggest that HGF/MET signaling is important for development and function of a subset IPANs and that these cells regulate intestinal motility and epithelial cell proliferation in response to bowel injury.
- Calcitonin gene-related peptide
- Dextran sodium sulfate (DSS)
- Enteric nervous system
- Hepatocyte growth factor
- Intrinsic primary afferent neurons