Background: Spatio-temporal (ST) maps provide a method for visualizing a temporally evolving and spatially varying field, which can also be used in the analysis of gastrointestinal motility. However, it is not always clear what the underlying contractions are that are represented in ST maps and whether some types of contractions are poorly represented or possibly not at all.
Methods: To analyze the translation from stationary or propagating rhythmic contractions of the intestine to ST maps, a simulation program was used to represent different patterns of intestinal contraction and to construct their corresponding ST maps. A number of different types of contractions were simulated and their ST maps analyzed.
Results: Circular strong contractions were well represented in ST maps as well as their frequency and velocity. Longitudinal contractions were not detected at all. Combinations of circular and longitudinal contractions were, to a limited extent detectable at a point in space and time. The method also enabled the construction of specific ST-patterns to mimic real-life ST maps and the analysis of the corresponding contraction patterns.
Conclusion: Spatio-temporal simulations provide a method to understand, teach and analyze ST maps. This approach could be useful to determine characteristics of contractions under a variety of circumstances.