Electrophysiological characterization of human rectal afferents

Kheng-Seong Ng, Simon Brookes, Noemi Montes-Adrian, David Mahns, Marc Gladman

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    12 Citations (Scopus)


    It is presumed that extrinsic afferent nerves link the rectum to the central nervous system. However, the anatomical/functional existence of such nerves has never previously been demonstrated in humans. Therefore, we aimed to identify and make electrophysiological recordings in vitro from extrinsic afferents, comparing human rectum to colon. Sections of normal rectum and colon were procured from anterior resection and right hemicolectomy specimens, respectively. Sections were pinned and extrinsic nerves dissected. Extracellular visceral afferent nerve activity was recorded. Neuronal responses to chemical [capsaicin and “inflammatory soup” (IS)] and mechanical (Von Frey probing) stimuli were recorded and quantified as peak firing rate (range) in 1-s intervals. Twenty-eight separate nerve trunks from eight rectums were studied. Of these, spontaneous multiunit afferent activity was recorded in 24 nerves. Peak firing rates increased significantly following capsaicin [median 6 (range 3-25) spikes/s vs. 2 (1-4), P < 0.001] and IS [median 5 (range 2-18) spikes/s vs. 2 (1-4), P < 0.001]. Mechanosensitive “hot spots” were identified in 16 nerves [median threshold 2.0 g (range 1.4-6.0 g)]. In eight of these, the threshold decreased after IS [1.0 g (0.4-1.4 g)]. By comparison, spontaneous activity was recorded in only 3/30 nerves studied from 10 colons, and only one hot spot (threshold 60 g) was identified. This study confirms the anatomical/functional existence of extrinsic rectal afferent nerves and characterizes their chemo-and mechanosensitivity for the first time in humans. They have different electrophysiological properties to colonic afferents and warrant further investigation in disease states.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)G1047-G1055
    Number of pages9
    JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


    • Electrophysiology
    • Human
    • Rectal afferents


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