Background/aim: Non-erosive reflux disease (NERD) is a common and heterogeneous disorder. We hypothesized that changes in peripheral innervation may lead to hyperalgesia and contribute to the development of the disorder.
Methods: Patients referred for evaluation of reflux symptoms with wireless pH monitoring were asked to provide demographic and clinical data and complete a survey related to severity of reflux symptoms. Endoscopies were performed to rule out macroscopic abnormalities of the esophageal mucosa. Biopsies obtained 2 cm above the gastroesophageal junction were stained for protein gene product 9.5 (PGP 9.5; general neuronal marker) and TRPV1 (capsaicin receptor) immunoreactivity. The density of immunoreactive fibers in the esophageal mucosa was determined morphometrically.
Results: A total of 39 patients without evidence of Barrett's metaplasia, erosive or ulcerative esophagitis were enrolled. Most patients had daily symptoms. The total esophageal acid exposure time was 5.6+/-0.6%, with 16 patients (41%) having increased acid reflux. Immunoreactivity for PGP 9.5 or TRPV1 was detected in papillary structures as well as within the epithelium (free intra-epithelial endings). Total acid-exposure time, but not symptom score or duration correlated significantly with density of PGP 9.5 immunoreactivity and TRPV1 positive fibers.
Conclusion: Even in the absence of macroscopic injury, esophageal acid exposure is associated with changes in mucosal innervation of the esophagus, thus potentially further enhancing symptoms in patients with gastroesophageal reflux.