Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology
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Year : 2000  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 18-26

The brain of the gut

Department of Physiology, College of Medicine & Medical Sciences, King Faisal University, Dammam, Saudi Arabia

Correspondence Address:
Hassan Ahmed El Munshid
Department of Physiology, College of Medicine & Medical Sciences, King Faisal University, P.O.Box 2114, Dammam 31451
Saudi Arabia
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 19864724

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One year before the close of the 19th century it was recognized that intestinal peristalsis was controlled by nerve plexuses in the wall of the gut independent of the central nervous system (CNS). This concept was developed further during the first quarter of the 20th century but was almost forgotten during the next 50 years until it was revived by the early 1970s. It is now recognized that the myenteric and submucous plexuses, referrred to as the enteric nervous system (ENS), contain as many neurons as in the spinal cord. In addition to autonomy from the CNS, the ENS employs not only noradrenaline and acetylcholine but also serotonin (5-HT), ATP, peptides and nitric oxide as neurotransmitters, and controls gut movements, exocrine and endocrine secretions and the microcirculation, thus qualifying for being considered the brain of the gut. Reflexes involving the ENS may be entirely intrinsic such as that controlling peristalsis, between parts of the gut through prevertebral ganglia e.g. the enterogastric reflex, or between the gut and the CNS as examplified by the vago-vagal reflexes. Absent, defective or dysfunctional enteric neurons may result in achalasia, infantile hypertrophic pyloric stenosis, paralytic ileus, intestinal pseudo-obstruction, Hirschsprung's disease or idiopathic chronic constipation. Further, the ENS may be involved in the pathogenesis of secretory diarrhoea and inflammatory bowel disease. More research on the gut brain will deepen our understanding of the physiology and pathophysiology of the gastrointestinal tract.

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