The enteric nervous system and neurogastroenterology

Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012 Mar 6;9(5):286-94. doi: 10.1038/nrgastro.2012.32.


Neurogastroenterology is defined as neurology of the gastrointestinal tract, liver, gallbladder and pancreas and encompasses control of digestion through the enteric nervous system (ENS), the central nervous system (CNS) and integrative centers in sympathetic ganglia. This Review provides a broad overview of the field of neurogastroenterology, with a focus on the roles of the ENS in the control of the musculature of the gastrointestinal tract and transmucosal fluid movement. Digestion is controlled through the integration of multiple signals from the ENS and CNS; neural signals also pass between distinct gut regions to coordinate digestive activity. Moreover, neural and endocrine control of digestion is closely coordinated. Interestingly, the extent to which the ENS or CNS controls digestion differs considerably along the digestive tract. The importance of the ENS is emphasized by the life-threatening effects of certain ENS neuropathies, including Hirschsprung disease and Chagas disease. Other ENS disorders, such as esophageal achalasia and gastroparesis, cause varying degrees of dysfunction. The neurons in enteric reflex pathways use a wide range of chemical messengers that signal through an even wider range of receptors. These receptors provide many actual and potential targets for modifying digestive function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Enteric Nervous System / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Motility / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / innervation*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology