The virtual intestine: in silico modeling of small intestinal electrophysiology and motility and the applications

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Syst Biol Med. Jan-Feb 2016;8(1):69-85. doi: 10.1002/wsbm.1324. Epub 2015 Nov 12.


The intestine comprises a long hollow muscular tube organized in anatomically and functionally discrete compartments, which digest and absorb nutrients and water from ingested food. The intestine also plays key roles in the elimination of waste and protection from infection. Critical to all of these functions is the intricate, highly coordinated motion of the intestinal tract, known as motility, which is coregulated by hormonal, neural, electrophysiological and other factors. The Virtual Intestine encapsulates a series of mathematical models of intestinal function in health and disease, with a current focus on motility, and particularly electrophysiology. The Virtual Intestine is being cohesively established across multiple physiological scales, from sub/cellular functions to whole organ levels, facilitating quantitative evaluations that present an integrative in silico framework. The models are also now finding broad physiological applications, including in evaluating hypotheses of slow wave pacemaker mechanisms, smooth muscle electrophysiology, structure-function relationships, and electromechanical coupling. Clinical applications are also beginning to follow, including in the pathophysiology of motility disorders, diagnosing intestinal ischemia, and visualizing colonic dysfunction. These advances illustrate the emerging potential of the Virtual Intestine to effectively address multiscale research challenges in interdisciplinary gastrointestinal sciences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena*
  • Gastrointestinal Motility / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intestines / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*