While most colonic motor activity is segmental and non-propulsive, colonic high amplitude propagated contractions (HAPC) can transfer colonic contents over long distances and often precede defecation. High amplitude propagated contractions occur spontaneously, in response to pharmacological agents or colonic distention. A subset of patients with slow transit constipation have fewer HAPC. In this issue of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, Rodriguez et al. report that anal relaxation during spontaneous and bisacodyl-induced HAPC exceeds anal relaxation during rectal distention in constipated children undergoing colonic manometry. Moreover, and consistent with a neural mechanism, anal relaxation often precedes arrival of HAPC in the left colon. High amplitude propagated contractions are also used to evaluate the motor response to a meal and pharmacological stimuli (e.g., bisacodyl, neostigmine) and to identify colonic inertia during colonic motility testing in chronic constipation. This editorial comprehensively reviews the characteristics, physiology and pharmacology of HAPC, their assessment by manometry, and relevance to constipation and diarrhea.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.