The translational value of rodent gastrointestinal functions: a cautionary tale

Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2011 Jul;32(7):402-9. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2011 Apr 29.


Understanding relationships between gene complements and physiology is important, especially where major species-dependent differences are apparent. Molecular and functional differences between rodents (rats, mice, guinea pigs) and humans are increasingly reported. Recently, the motilin gene, which encodes a gastrointestinal hormone widely detected in mammals, was found to be absent in rodents where the receptors are pseudogenes; however, actions of motilin in rodents are sometimes observed. Although ghrelin shares common ancestry with motilin, major species-dependent abberations are not reported. The apparently specific absence of functional motilin in rodents is associated with specialised digestive physiology, including loss of ability to vomit; motilin is functional in mammals capable of vomiting. The exception is rabbit, the only other mammal unable to vomit, in which motilin might be conserved to regulate caecotrophy, another specialised digestive process. Motilin illustrates a need for caution when translating animal functions to humans. Nevertheless, motilin receptor agonists are under development as gastroprokinetic drugs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Digestion / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motilin / physiology*
  • Rodentia / physiology*


  • Motilin