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J Clin Gastroenterol. 2008 May-Jun;42(5):610-9. doi: 10.1097/MCG.0b013e31816b444d.

Physiology of normal esophageal motility.

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Center for Swallowing and Motility Disorders, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


The esophagus consists of 2 different parts. In humans, the cervical esophagus is composed of striated muscles and the thoracic esophagus is composed of phasic smooth muscles. The striated muscle esophagus is innervated by the lower motor neurons and peristalsis in this segment is due to sequential activation of the motor neurons in the nucleus ambiguus. Both primary and secondary peristaltic contractions are centrally mediated. The smooth muscle of esophagus is phasic in nature and is innervated by intramural inhibitory (nitric oxide releasing) and excitatory (acetylcholine releasing) neurons that receive inputs from separate sets of preganglionic neurons located in the dorsal motor nucleus of vagus. The primary peristalsis in this segment involves both central and peripheral mechanisms. The primary peristalsis consists of inhibition (called deglutitive inhibition) followed by excitation. The secondary peristalsis is entirely due to peripheral mechanisms and also involves inhibition followed by excitation. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is characterized by tonic muscle that is different from the muscle of the esophageal body. The LES, like the esophageal body smooth muscle, is also innervated by the inhibitory and excitatory neurons. The LES maintains tonic closure because of its myogenic property. The LES tone is modulated by the inhibitory and the excitatory nerves. Inhibitory nerves mediate LES relaxation and the excitatory nerves mediate reflex contraction or rebound contraction of the LES. Clinical disorders of esophageal motility can be classified on the basis of disorders of the inhibitory and excitatory innervations and the smooth muscles.

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