The peristaltic reflex: An analysis of the nerve pathways and their pharmacology

M. Costa, J. B. Furness

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253 Citations (Scopus)


The enteric reflexes in isolated segments of the distal colon and rectum of the guinea-pig were studied by applying localized distensions and recording the consequent changes in circular muscle activity, and by recording tension changes in the circular muscle during the propulsion of a bolus in vitro. Lesions of the wall of the colon were made to locate nerve pathways involved in the reflexes and pharmacological tests were applied to investigate the natures of transmitters released and the types of receptors involved. Distension produced a transient contraction of the circular muscle on the oral side and sustained relaxation on the anal side. Both reflexes were nervemediated. They were elicited in segments deprived of mucosa and submucosa. Interruption of Auerbach's plexus, but not interruption of the submucosal plexus, prevented their conduction. The ascending excitatory reflex was partly blocked by hyoscine and was also partly blocked by methysergide or by making the preparation tachyphylactic to the excitatory action of 5-hydroxytryptamine. The ascending excitatory pathways apparently involve neurons releasing a 5-HT-like transmitter as well as cholinergic neurons. The descending inhibitory reflex was not antagonized by hyoscine, guanethidine, methysergide or mepyramine. It is assumed that the inhibitory neurons activated in this reflex are identical with the noncholinergic, non-adrenergic, enteric inhibitory neurons found throughout the intestine. If both the ascending excitatory and descending inhibitory reflexes acted simultaneously on the same area of circular muscle, the inhibitory response tended to dominate. Pellets of faeces, covered by a thin layer of resin, were introduced into the oral ends of isolated segments of colon. They were propelled analwards at speeds of 0.5-1.6 mm/s. Tension records showed that the pellets were preceded by relaxation and followed by a ring of contraction. The propulsion was blocked by both hyoscine and methysergide. Descending waves of contraction were also observed in empty segments of colon. These occurred spontaneously or were initiated by stretch. They did not occur in the presence of hyoscine or tetrodotoxin. It is postulated that three factors may contribute to propulsion in the guinea-pig distal colon: ascending excitatory reflexes which evoke contractions above a bolus; descending inhibitory reflexes which cause relaxations below; and contractions which, once set up in the circular muscle, travel in an anal direction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-60
Number of pages14
JournalNaunyn-Schmiedeberg's Archives of Pharmacology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1976
Externally publishedYes


  • 5-hydroxytryptamine
  • Autonomic pharmacology
  • Intestine
  • Peristalsis


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