Structure of the myenteric plexus in normal and diseased human ileum analyzed by X-ray virtual histology slices


Veress B, Peruzzi N, Eckermann M, Frohn J, Salditt T, Bech M, Ohlsson B


World Journal of Gastroenterology


World J Gastroenterol. Aug 7, 2022; 28(29): 3994-4006.


Background: The enteric nervous system (ENS) is situated along the entire gastrointestinal tract and is divided into myenteric and submucosal plexuses in the small and large intestines. The ENS consists of neurons, glial cells, and nerves assembled into ganglia, surrounded by telocytes, interstitial cells of Cajal, and connective tissue. Owing to the complex spatial organization of several interconnections with nerve fascicles, the ENS is difficult to examine in conventional histological sections of 3-5 μm.

Aim: To examine human ileum full-thickness biopsies using X-ray phase-contrast nanotomography without prior staining to visualize the ENS.

Methods: Six patients were diagnosed with gastrointestinal dysmotility and neuropathy based on routine clinical and histopathological examinations. As controls, full-thickness biopsies were collected from healthy resection ileal regions after hemicolectomy for right colon malignancy. From the paraffin blocks, 4-μm thick sections were prepared and stained with hematoxylin and eosin for localization of the myenteric ganglia under a light microscope. A 1-mm punch biopsy (up to 1 cm in length) centered on the myenteric plexus was taken and placed into a Kapton® tube for mounting in the subsequent investigation. X-ray phase-contrast tomography was performed using two custom-designed laboratory setups with micrometer resolution for overview scanning. Subsequently, selected regions of interest were scanned at a synchrotron-based end-station, and high-resolution slices were reported. In total,
more than 6000 virtual slices were analyzed from nine samples.

Results: In the overview scans, the general architecture and quality of the samples were studied, and the myenteric plexus was localized. High-resolution scans revealed details, including the ganglia, interganglional nerve fascicles, and surrounding tissue. The ganglia were irregular in shape and contained neurons and glial cells. Spindle-shaped cells with very thin cellular projections could be observed on the surface of the ganglia, which appeared to build a network. In the patients, there were no alterations in the general architecture of the myenteric ganglia. Nevertheless, several pathological changes were observed, including vacuolar degeneration, autophagic activity, the appearance of sequestosomes, chromatolysis, and apoptosis. Furthermore, possible expulsion of pyknotic neurons and defects in the covering cellular network could be observed in serial slices. These changes partly corresponded to previous light microscopy findings.

Conclusion: The analysis of serial virtual slices could provide new information that cannot be obtained by classical light microscopy. The advantages, disadvantages, and future possibilities of this method are also discussed.