Interstitial Cells of Cajal

Although motility disorders affect millions of people, the underlying pathophysiology of these disorders has long been unclear. Dr. Farrugia's research team has studied the cellular basis of motility diseases for more than 20 years. In 2000, the lab published the first study showing that loss of ICC is the main defect in slow transit constipation. Since then, the team has shown that ICC defects are present in intestinal pseudo-obstruction and gastroparesis.

Coordinated electrical activity in the gastrointestinal tract requires the interaction of several cell types, including nerves, interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) and smooth muscle cells. ICC generate the electrical slow wave that drives regular smooth muscle contractility.

Over a series of more than 20 manuscripts, the Cellular and Molecular Physiology of Gastrointestinal Disorders Lab has combined electron microscopy and light microscopy to show that more than 95 percent of people with gastroparesis have abnormalities in ICC, and that when the ICC defect is corrected normal gastric emptying is restored. The lab is now focused on discovering novel targets and therapies to treat gastroparesis.

The lab has also identified how defects in ion channels expressed in ICC, such as Ano1 and Nav1.5, lead to abnormal function and disease. Read more about the Cellular and Molecular Physiology of Gastrointestinal Disorders Lab's research on mechanosensitive ion channels.