Depletion of interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) is certified in the stomach of diabetic patients. Though electroacupuncture (EA) at ST36 is an effective therapy to regulate gastric motility, the mechanisms of EA at ST36 on gastric emptying and networks of ICC remain to be elucidated. The aims of this study were to investigate the effects of EA on gastric emptying and on the alterations of ICC networks. Rats were randomized into the control, diabetic rats (DM), diabetic rats with sham EA (DM+SEA), diabetic rats with low frequency EA (DM+LEA) and diabetic rats with high frequency EA groups (DM+HEA). The expression of c-kit in each layer of gastric wall was assessed by western blotting. The proliferation of ICC was identified by immunolabeling of c-kit and Ki67 as the apoptosis of ICC was examined by TUNEL staining. The results were as follows: (1) Gastric emptying was severely delayed in the DM group, but accelerated in the LEA and HEA group, especially in the LEA group. (2) The expression of c-kit in each layer was reduced apparently in the DM group, but also up-regulated in the LEA and HEA group. (3) Plentiful proliferated ICC (c-kit+/Ki67+) forming bushy networks with c-kit+ cells were observed in the LEA and HEA group, while the apoptotic cells (c-kit+/TUNEL+) were hardly captured in the LEA and HEA group. Collectively, low and high frequency EA at ST36 rescue the damaged networks of ICC by inhibiting the apoptosis and enhancing the proliferation in the stomach of diabetic rats, resulting in an improved gastric emptying
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