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Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018 Mar;15(3):152-167. doi: 10.1038/nrgastro.2017.149. Epub 2018 Jan 4.

Hirschsprung disease - integrating basic science and clinical medicine to improve outcomes.

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The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia - Research Institute, 3615 Civic Center Boulevard, Abramson Pediatric Research Center, Suite #1116i, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-1209, USA.


Hirschsprung disease is defined by the absence of enteric neurons at the end of the bowel. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is the intrinsic nervous system of the bowel and regulates most aspects of bowel function. When the ENS is missing, there are no neurally mediated propulsive motility patterns, and the bowel remains contracted, causing functional obstruction. Symptoms of Hirschsprung disease include constipation, vomiting, abdominal distension and growth failure. Untreated disease usually causes death in childhood because bloodstream bacterial infections occur in the context of bowel inflammation (enterocolitis) or bowel perforation. Current treatment is surgical resection of the bowel to remove or bypass regions where the ENS is missing, but many children have problems after surgery. Although the anatomy of Hirschsprung disease is simple, many clinical features remain enigmatic, and diagnosis and management remain challenging. For example, the age of presentation and the type of symptoms that occur vary dramatically among patients, even though every affected child has missing neurons in the distal bowel at birth. In this Review, basic science discoveries are linked to clinical manifestations of Hirschsprung disease, including partial penetrance, enterocolitis and genetics. Insights into disease mechanisms that might lead to new prevention, diagnostic and treatment strategies are described.


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