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Am J Physiol. 1997 Oct;273(4 Pt 1):G854-8.

Characterization of the pharyngo-UES contractile reflex in humans.

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Medical College of Wisconsin Dysphagia Institute, and Department of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin and Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Milwaukee 53226, USA.


Preliminary human studies suggest the presence of an upper esophageal sphincter (UES) contractile reflex triggered by pharyngeal water stimulation. The purposes of this study were to further characterize this reflex and determine the threshold volume for its activation. We studied 10 healthy young volunteers by manometric technique before and after topical pharyngeal anesthesia. UES pressure responses to various volumes and temperatures of water injected into the pharynx were elucidated. At a threshold volume, rapid-pulse and slow continuous pharyngeal water injection resulted in significant augmentation of UES pressure in all volunteers. Threshold volume for inducing UES contraction averaged 0.1 +/- 0.01 ml for rapid-pulse injection and was significantly smaller than that for slow continuous injection (1.0 +/- 0.2 ml). UES pressure increase duration averaged 16 +/- 4 s. Augmentation of UES resting tone by injection of water with three different temperatures was similar. This augmentation was abolished after topical anesthesia. Conclusions were that stimulation of the human pharynx by injection of minute amounts of water results in a significant increase in resting UES pressure: the pharyngo-UES contractile reflex. The magnitude of pressure increase due to activation of this reflex is not volume or temperature dependent. Loss of pharyngeal sensation abolishes this reflex.

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