The Enteric Nervous System and Gastrointestinal Motility

The enteric nervous system (ENS) operates both in conjunction with and independent of the peripheral nervous system. As discussed previously, nerve plexi exist within the bowel wall, with Auerbach's plexus sandwiched between longitudinal and circular muscle layers, and Meissner's plexus located more medially in the submucosa. The ENS is the largest component of the autonomic nervous system, based on nerve cell number.

Interstitial cells of Cajal, a cell type unique to the alimentary tract, are present medial to the inner smooth muscle layer. These specialized cells interact with myenteric neurons and are thought to exhibit independent electrical activity, generating and transmitting slow waves to smooth muscle, functioning as pacemakers for colonic motility. The ENS

Figure 4 (A) Fluid transport across the cell membrane. (Reproduced with permission from Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M, and Ross AC (1999) Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 9th edn. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.) (B) Intercellular junctions. (Reproduced with permission from Alberts B, Bray D, Lewis J, Raff M, Roberts K, and Watson JD (1989) Molecular Biology of the Cell, 2nd edn. Garland Publishing, NY.

Figure 4 (A) Fluid transport across the cell membrane. (Reproduced with permission from Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M, and Ross AC (1999) Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 9th edn. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.) (B) Intercellular junctions. (Reproduced with permission from Alberts B, Bray D, Lewis J, Raff M, Roberts K, and Watson JD (1989) Molecular Biology of the Cell, 2nd edn. Garland Publishing, NY.

functions independent of the central nervous system, with reflex activity in response to luminal stimuli, including muscle contraction and coordination (i.e., motility, blood flow, and glandular secretion). Modulation of the ENS is via the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.

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