Speculations on the structure/function relationship for vagal and splanchnic afferent endings supplying the gastrointestinal tract

J Auton Nerv Syst. 1988 Apr;22(3):175-80. doi: 10.1016/0165-1838(88)90104-x.


This paper discusses some of the unsettled issues in the study of the afferent innervation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Afferent fibres in the vagus and splanchnic nerves have been studied electrophysiologically and much has been learnt from single fibre recordings. Splanchnic afferent fibres generally terminate in multiple mechanosensitive endings in the mesentery and serosa where they are in a position to monitor tension on the mesenteric attachments. Other mechanoreceptors following a mainly vagal pathway behave as if they are functionally in-series with the muscle elements of the gut wall and signal muscle tension generated passively by distension and actively during contraction. A third group of afferent endings supply the GI mucosa where they are in a position to signal information on the physical and chemical environment of the gut lumen. A complex picture of mucosal sensitivity has emerged with subpopulations of receptors with polymodal sensitivity and quality-specific mechanoreceptors, thermoreceptors and chemoreceptors. Unfortunately, there is little concensus amongst the different research groups because of different experimental paradigms. One group describes specific chemoreceptors, other groups fail to find them. In this minireview I have speculated on the cause of the often conflicting data on GI afferents and the implications this has for the interpretation of visceral receptor mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Animals
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology
  • Digestive System / innervation*
  • Gastric Mucosa / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiology
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Nerve Endings / anatomy & histology
  • Nerve Endings / physiology*
  • Nociceptors / physiology
  • Splanchnic Nerves / anatomy & histology
  • Splanchnic Nerves / physiology*
  • Vagus Nerve / anatomy & histology
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology*
  • Viscera / physiology