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Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2012 Jun 15;302(12):G1445-57. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00007.2012. Epub 2012 Mar 8.

The role of the superior laryngeal nerve in esophageal reflexes.

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MCW Dysphagia Research Institute, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, and Department of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53226, USA.


The aim of this study was to determine the role of the superior laryngeal nerve (SLN) in the following esophageal reflexes: esophago-upper esophageal sphincter (UES) contractile reflex (EUCR), esophago-lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxation reflex (ELIR), secondary peristalsis, pharyngeal swallowing, and belch. Cats (N = 43) were decerebrated and instrumented to record EMG of the cricopharyngeus, thyrohyoideus, geniohyoideus, and cricothyroideus; esophageal pressure; and motility of LES. Reflexes were activated by stimulation of the esophagus via slow balloon or rapid air distension at 1 to 16 cm distal to the UES. Slow balloon distension consistently activated EUCR and ELIR from all areas of the esophagus, but the distal esophagus was more sensitive than the proximal esophagus. Transection of SLN or proximal recurrent laryngeal nerves (RLN) blocked EUCR and ELIR generated from the cervical esophagus. Distal RLN transection blocked EUCR from the distal cervical esophagus. Slow distension of all areas of the esophagus except the most proximal few centimeters activated secondary peristalsis, and SLN transection had no effect on secondary peristalsis. Slow distension of all areas of the esophagus inconsistently activated pharyngeal swallows, and SLN transection blocked generation of pharyngeal swallows from all levels of the esophagus. Slow distension of the esophagus inconsistently activated belching, but rapid air distension consistently activated belching from all areas of the esophagus. SLN transection did not block initiation of belch but blocked one aspect of belch, i.e., inhibition of cricopharyngeus EMG. Vagotomy blocked all aspects of belch generated from all areas of esophagus and blocked all responses of all reflexes not blocked by SLN or RLN transection. In conclusion, the SLN mediates all aspects of the pharyngeal swallow, no portion of the secondary peristalsis, and the EUCR and ELIR generated from the proximal esophagus. Considering that SLN is not a motor nerve for any of these reflexes, the role of the SLN in control of these reflexes is sensory in nature only.

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