The enteric nervous system controls much of the mixing and propulsion of nutrients along the digestive tract. Enteric neural circuits involve intrinsic sensory neurons, interneurons and motor neurons. While the role of the excitatory motor neurons is well established, the role of the enteric inhibitory motor neurons (IMNs) is less clear. The discovery of inhibitory transmission in the intestine in the 1960 in the laboratory of Geoff Burnstock triggered the search for the unknown neurotransmitter. It has since emerged that most neurons including the IMNs contain and may utilise more than one transmitter substances; for IMNs these include ATP, the neuropeptide VIP/PACAP and nitric oxide. This review distinguishes the enteric neural pathways underlying the ‘standing reflexes’ from the pathways operating physiologically during propulsive and non-propulsive movements. Morphological evidence in small laboratory animals indicates that the IMNs are located in the myenteric plexus and project aborally to the circular muscle, where they act by relaxing the muscle. There is ongoing ‘tonic ‘activity of these IMNs to keep the intestinal muscle relaxed. Accommodatory responses to content further activate enteric pathways that involve the IMNs as final neural element. IMNs are activated by mechanical and chemical stimulation induced by luminal contents, which activate intrinsic sensory enteric neurons and the polarised interneuronal ascending excitatory and descending inhibitory reflex pathways. The latter relaxes the muscle ahead of the advancing bolus, thus facilitating propulsion.
- Enteric nervous system
- Enteric reflexes
- Geoff Burnstock
- Motor complexes
- Non-adrenergic non-cholinergic nerves