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Cortical processing of human gut sensation: an evoked potential study.

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Academic Gastrointestinal Science Unit, University of Manchester, Hope Hospital, Salford M6 8HD, United Kingdom.


The rectum has a unique physiological role as a sensory organ and differs in its afferent innervation from other gut organs that do not normally mediate conscious sensation. We compared the central processing of human esophageal, duodenal, and rectal sensation using cortical evoked potentials (CEP) in 10 healthy volunteers (age range 21-34 yr). Esophageal and duodenal CEP had similar morphology in all subjects, whereas rectal CEP had two different but reproducible morphologies. The rectal CEP latency to the first component P1 (69 ms) was shorter than both duodenal (123 ms; P = 0.008) and esophageal CEP latencies (106 ms; P = 0.004). The duodenal CEP amplitude of the P1-N1 component (5.0 microV) was smaller than that of the corresponding esophageal component (5.7 microV; P = 0.04) but similar to that of the corresponding rectal component (6.5 microV; P = 0.25). This suggests that rectal sensation is either mediated by faster-conducting afferent pathways or that there is a difference in the orientation or volume of cortical neurons representing the different gut organs. In conclusion, the physiological and anatomic differences between gut organs are reflected in differences in the characteristics of their afferent pathways and cortical processing.

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