Surveillance of the gastrointestinal mucosa by sensory neurons
Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology
A dense network of extrinsic and intrinsic sensory neurons supplies the gastrointestinal tract. Intrinsic sensory neurons provide the enteric nervous system with the kind of information that this brain of the gut requires for its autonomic control of digestion, whereas extrinsic afferents notify the brain about processes that are relevant to energy and fluid homeostasis and the sensation of discomfort and pain. The sensory repertoire of afferent neurons is extended by their responsiveness to
... esponsiveness to mediators released from enteroendocrine and immune cells, which act like "taste buds" of the gut and serve as interface between the gastrointestinal lumen and the sensory nerve terminals in the lamina propria of the mucosa. Functional bowel disorders such as non-ulcer dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome are characterized by abdominal discomfort or pain in the absence of an identifiable organic cause. It is hypothesized with good reason that infection, inflammation or trauma causes sensory pathways to undergo profound phenotypic and functional alterations that outlast the acute insult. The pertinent changes involve an exaggerated sensitivity of the peripheral afferent nerve fibres as well as a distorted processing and representation of the incoming information in the brain. This concept identifies a number of receptors and ion channels that are selectively expressed by primary afferent neurons as important molecular targets at which to aim novel therapies for functional bowel disorders.