Novel intrinsic neurogenic and myogenic mechanisms underlying the formation of faecal pellets along the large intestine of guinea-pigs

Marcello Costa, Timothy J. Hibberd, Lauren J. Keightley, Lukasz Wiklendt, Melinda A. Kyloh, Phil G. Dinning, Simon J. H. Brookes, Nick J. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract: Soft faecal material is transformed into discrete, pellet-shaped faeces at the colonic flexure. Here, analysis of water content in natural faecal material revealed a decline from cecum to rectum without significant changes at the flexure. Thus, pellet formation is not explained by changes in viscosity alone. We then used video imaging of colonic wall movements with electromyography in isolated preparations containing guinea-pig proximal colon, colonic flexure and distal colon. To investigate the pellet formation process, the colonic segments were infused with artificial contents (Krebs solution and 4–6% methylcellulose) to simulate physiological faecal content flow. Remarkably, pellet formation took place in vitro, without extrinsic neural inputs. Infusion evoked slowly propagating neurogenic contractions, the proximal colon migrating motor complexes (∼0.6 cpm), which initiated pellet formation at the flexure. Lesion of the flexure, but not the proximal colon, disrupted the formation of normal individual pellets. In addition, a distinct myogenic mechanism was identified, whereby slow phasic contractions (∼1.9 cpm) initiated at the flexure and propagated short distances retrogradely into the proximal colon and antegradely into the distal colon. There were no detectable changes in the density or distribution of pacemaker-type interstitial cells of Cajal across the flexure. The findings provide new insights into how solid faecal content is generated, suggesting the major mechanisms underlying faecal pellet formation involve the unique interaction at the colonic flexure between antegrade proximal colon migrating motor complexes, organized by enteric neurons, and retrograde myogenic slow phasic contractions. Additional, as yet unidentified extrinsic and/or humoral influences appear to contribute to processing of faecal content in vivo. (Figure presented.). Key points: In herbivores, including guinea-pigs, clearly defined faecal pellets are formed at a distinct location along the large intestine (colonic flexure). The mechanism underlying the formation of these faecal pellets at this region has remained unknown. We reveal a progressive and gradual reduction in water content of faecal content along the bowel. Hence, the distinct transition from amorphous to pellet shaped faecal content could not be explained by a dramatic increase in water reabsorption from a specific site. We discovered patterns of anterograde neurogenic and retrograde myogenic motor activity that facilitate the formation of faecal pellets. The formation of ‘pellet-like’ boluses at the colonic flexure involves interaction of an antegrade migrating motor complex in the proximal colon and retrograde myogenic slow phasic contractions that emerge from the colonic flexure. The findings uncover intrinsic mechanisms responsible for the formation of discrete faecal scybala in the large intestine of a vertebrate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4561-4579
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number20
Early online date21 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2021


  • neurogenic
  • myogenic
  • faecal pellets
  • large intestine
  • guinea-pigs
  • colonic flexure
  • colonic wall
  • proximal colon
  • distal colon
  • colonic motility
  • propulsion
  • migrating motor complexes
  • colon
  • enteric nervous system


Dive into the research topics of 'Novel intrinsic neurogenic and myogenic mechanisms underlying the formation of faecal pellets along the large intestine of guinea-pigs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this