Intestinal nerves and ion transport: stimuli, reflexes, and responses

Am J Physiol. 1985 Mar;248(3 Pt 1):G261-71. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.1985.248.3.G261.


The effects of extrinsic and intrinsic nerves on ion and water transport by the intestine are considered and discussed in terms of their possible physiological function. Adrenergic nerves enter the small intestine via mesenteric nerves. Adrenergic tone is usually absent in tissues in vitro but is present in vivo. The nerves increase absorption in response to homeostatic changes associated with acute depletion of extracellular fluid. Cholinergic tone that reduces fluid absorption or causes secretion has been detected in the small intestine of humans, dogs, and cats and in the colon of humans. Extrinsic cholinergic fibers generally do not affect ion transport in small intestine but probably do so in colon. Whether peptides liberated in the mucosa affect enterocytes directly is not clear. Studies on humans and rabbits suggest that the role of substance P is minor. The physiological roles of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) and somatostatin remain to be defined. Intraluminal factors also affect ion and water transport. Mucosal rubbing, distension, and cholera toxin cause fluid secretion; acid solutions in the duodenum cause alkaline secretion; these stimuli and hypertonic glucose liberate serotonin into the lumen, the mesenteric venous blood, or both. It has been proposed that the enterochromaffin cell is an epithelial sensory cell that responds to noxious stimuli within the lumen by liberating serotonin. The serotonin initiates a neural reflex through a nicotinic ganglion to liberate a secretagogue that acts on the enterocyte. The function of VIP in this proposed reflex is unclear. The variety of intraluminal stimuli that influence epithelial function implies that there is more than one type of epithelial sensory cell (or sensory mechanism). Prostaglandins may mediate the alkaline secretion caused by acid in the duodenum. There may be other effective substances. Although it has been known for years that intraluminal stimuli affect the coordination of smooth muscle functions, it is not known whether similar stimuli also influence salt and water transport as a meal traverses the alimentary canal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Bile Acids and Salts / pharmacology
  • Enterochromaffin Cells / physiology
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Intestines / innervation*
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Ion Channels / physiology*
  • Muscle, Smooth / physiology*
  • Nerve Fibers / physiology
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Prostaglandins / physiology
  • Receptors, Adrenergic / physiology
  • Receptors, Catecholamine
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Somatostatin / physiology
  • Stimulation, Chemical
  • Substance P / physiology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Toxins, Biological / pharmacology
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide / physiology
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance*


  • Amino Acids
  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Ion Channels
  • Prostaglandins
  • Receptors, Adrenergic
  • Receptors, Catecholamine
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Toxins, Biological
  • glucose receptor
  • Substance P
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide
  • Somatostatin
  • Glucose