Redefining the functional roles of the gastrointestinal migrating motor complex and motilin in small bacterial overgrowth and hunger signaling

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2016 Feb 15;310(4):G228-33. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00212.2015. Epub 2015 Dec 10.


During the fasting state the upper gastrointestinal tract exhibits a specific periodic migrating contraction pattern that is known as the migrating motor complex (MMC). Three different phases can be distinguished during the MMC. Phase III of the MMC is the most active of the three and can start either in the stomach or small intestine. Historically this pattern was designated to be the housekeeper of the gut since disturbances in the pattern were associated with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth; however, its role in the involvement of hunger sensations was already hinted in the beginning of the 20th century by both Cannon (Cannon W, Washburn A. Am J Physiol 29: 441-454, 1912) and Carlson (Carlson A. The Control of Hunger in Health and Disease. Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1916). The discovery of motilin in 1973 shed more light on the control mechanisms of the MMC. Motilin plasma levels fluctuate together with the phases of the MMC and induce phase III contractions with a gastric onset. Recent research suggests that these motilin-induced phase III contractions signal hunger in healthy subjects and that this system is disturbed in morbidly obese patients. This minireview describes the functions of the MMC in the gut and its regulatory role in controlling hunger sensations.

Keywords: food intake disorders; ghrelin; hunger; migrating motor complex; motilin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Fasting / physiology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology*
  • Motilin / physiology*
  • Myoelectric Complex, Migrating / physiology*


  • Motilin