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Gastroenterology. 1990 May;98(5 Pt 1):1219-25.

Serotonin and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid are increased in the sigmoid colon in severe idiopathic constipation.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, England.


The distribution of serotonin and dopamine beta-hydroxylase was examined in sigmoid colon specimens from patients with severe idiopathic constipation and control patients with carcinoma of the rectum or colon. Specimens were divided into three regions: (a) the mucosa; (b) the myenteric and submucosal plexuses with the longitudinal and circular smooth muscles; and (c) the circular smooth muscle, for biochemical analysis of serotonin and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (total indoles) and noradrenaline. In both groups of patients, serotonin- and dopamine beta-hydroxylase-like immunoreactivity was localized in nerves in the myenteric and submucosal plexuses, and a sparse innervation was observed in the circular muscle. In addition, intense serotonin-like fluorescence was present in a large number of enterochromaffin cells in the mucosa. Total indole levels were significantly increased in the mucosa (p less than 0.02) and circular muscle (p less than 0.05) of the constipated patients. In contrast, no changes in noradrenaline levels were observed in any of the regions studied. Altered levels of total indoles may thus contribute to severe idiopathic constipation. Analysis of biopsy specimens could be a useful tool in clinical diagnosis and future investigations of diseases of the gut.

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