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Annu Rev Physiol. 1999;61:117-42.

The enteric nervous system and regulation of intestinal motility.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.


The enteric nervous system exerts local control over mixing and propulsive movements in the small intestine. When digestion is in progress, intrinsic primary afferent neurons (IPANs) are activated by the contents of the intestine. The IPANs that have been physiologically characterized are in the intrinsic myenteric ganglia. They are numerous, about 650/mm length of small intestine in the guinea pig, and communicate with each other through slow excitatory transmission to form self-reinforcing assemblies. High proportions of these neurons respond to chemicals in the lumen or to tension in the muscle; physiological stimuli activate assemblies of hundreds or thousands of IPANs. The IPANs make direct connections with muscle motor neurons and with ascending and descending interneurons. The circular muscle contracts as an annulus, about 2-3 mm in minimum oral-to-anal extent in the guinea pig small intestine. The smooth muscle cells form an electrical syncytium that is innervated by about 300 excitatory and 400 inhibitory motor neurons per mm length. The intrinsic nerve circuits that control mixing and propulsion in the small intestine are now known, but it remains to be determined how they are programmed to generate the motility patterns that are observed.

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