Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide nerve processes and cell bodies were identified by electron microscopic immunocytochemistry in the rat small intestine. Labeled nerve processes were numerous in the inner circular smooth muscle coat and mainly in the mucosa, but were absent in the longitudinal muscle layer. Submucosal blood vessels were often surrounded by immunoreactive vasoactive intestinal polypeptide positive nerves, in close associations (distance less than 40 nm) to blood vessel basement membranes and to smooth muscle cells. In the ganglia of the myenteric and submucous plexuses, labeled fibers surrounded unstained neural cell bodies. The synaptic vesicles of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide positive terminals were 35-40 nm in diameter and some dense core vesicles (80-120 nm in diameter) were also observed in the same profiles. These observations suggest that vasoactive intestinal polypeptide nerves may participate in regulating smooth muscle activity and local blood flow in the small intestine.
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