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Gastroenterology. 2003 Oct;125(4):1137-47.

Postoperative ileus is maintained by intestinal immune infiltrates that activate inhibitory neural pathways in mice.

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Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Academic Medical Center, Meibergdreef 9, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



Postoperative ileus after abdominal surgery largely contributes to patient morbidity and prolongs hospitalization. We aimed to study its pathophysiology in a murine model by determining gastric emptying after manipulation of the small intestine.


Gastric emptying was determined at 6, 12, 24, and 48 hours after abdominal surgery by using scintigraphic imaging. Intestinal or gastric inflammation was assessed by immune-histochemical staining and measurement of tissue myeloperoxidase activity. Neuromuscular function of gastric and intestinal muscle strips was determined in organ baths.


Intestinal manipulation resulted in delayed gastric emptying up to 48 hours after surgery; gastric half-emptying time 24 hours after surgery increased from 16.0 +/- 4.4 minutes after control laparotomy to 35.6 +/- 5.4 minutes after intestinal manipulation. The sustained delay in gastric emptying was associated with the appearance of leukocyte infiltrates in the muscularis of the manipulated intestine, but not in untouched stomach or colon. The delay in postoperative gastric emptying was prevented by inhibition of intestinal leukocyte recruitment. In addition, postoperative neural blockade with hexamethonium (1 mg/kg intraperitoneally) or guanethidine (50 mg/kg intraperitoneally) normalized gastric emptying without affecting small-intestinal transit. The appearance of intestinal infiltrates after intestinal manipulation was associated with increased c-fos protein expression in sensory neurons in the lumbar spinal cord.


Sustained postoperative gastroparesis after intestinal manipulation is mediated by an inhibitory enterogastric neural pathway that is triggered by inflammatory infiltrates recruited to the intestinal muscularis. These findings show new targets to shorten the duration of postoperative ileus pharmacologically.

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