Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 2008; 12 (5): 3-19

Architecture of enteric neural circuits involved in intestinal motility

M. Costa, S.H. Brookes

Department of Physiology and Centre of Neuroscience, Flinders University,
Adelaide, SA (Australia)

Abstract. – This short review describes the conceptual development in the search for the enteric neural circuits with the initial identifications of the classes of enteric neurons on the bases of their morphology, neurochemistry, biophysical properties, projections and connectivity. The discovery of the presence of multiple neurochemicals in the same nerve cells in specific combinations led to the concept of “chemical coding” and of “plurichemical transmission”. The proposal that enteric reflexes are largely responsible for the propulsion of contents led to investigations of polarised reflex pathways and how these may be activated to generate the coordinated propulsive behaviour of the intestine. The research over the past decades attempted to integrate information of chemical neuroanatomy with functional studies, with the development of methods combining anatomical, functional and pharmacological techniques. This multidisciplinary strategy led to a full accounting of all functional classes of enteric neurons in the guinea-pig, and advanced wiring diagrams of the enteric neural circuits have been proposed. In parallel, investigations of the actual behaviour of the intestine during physiological motor activity have advanced with the development of spatio-temporal analysis from video recordings. The relation between neural pathways, their activities and the generation of patterns of motor activity remain largely unexplained. The enteric neural circuits appear not set in rigid programs but respond to different physico-chemical contents in an adaptable way (neuromechanical hypothesis). The generation of the complex repertoire of motor patterns results from the interplay of myogenic and neuromechanical mechanisms with spontaneous generation of migratory motor activity by enteric circuits.

Corresponding Author: Marcello Costa, MD; e-mail:

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To cite this article

M. Costa, S.H. Brookes
Architecture of enteric neural circuits involved in intestinal motility

Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci
Year: 2008
Vol. 12 - N. 5
Pages: 3-19