Physical and nutrient stimuli differentially modulate gut motility patterns, gut transit rate, and transcriptome in an agastric fish, the ballan wrasse

PLoS One. 2021 Feb 11;16(2):e0247076. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0247076. eCollection 2021.


The effects of nutrient and mechanical sensing on gut motility and intestinal metabolism in lower vertebrates remains largely unknown. Here we present the transcriptome response to luminal stimulation by nutrients and an inert bolus on nutrient response pathways and also the response on gut motility in a stomachless fish with a short digestive tract; the ballan wrasse (Labrus berggylta). Using an in vitro model, we differentiate how signals initiated by physical stretch (cellulose and plastic beads) and nutrients (lipid and protein) modulate the gut evacuation rate, motility patterns and the transcriptome. Intestinal stretch generated by inert cellulose initiated a faster evacuation of digesta out of the anterior intestine compared to digestible protein and lipid. Stretch on the intestine upregulated genes associated with increased muscle activity, whereas nutrients stimulated increased expression of several neuropeptides and receptors which are directly involved in gut motility regulation. Although administration of protein and lipid resulted in similar bulbous evacuation times, differences in intestinal motility, transit between the segments and gene expression between the two were observed. Lipid induced increased frequency of ripples and standing contraction in the middle section of the intestine compared to the protein group. We suggest that this difference in motility was modulated by factors [prepronociceptin (pnoca), prodynorphin (pdyn) and neuromedin U (nmu), opioid neurotransmitters and peptides] that are known to inhibit gastrointestinal motility and were upregulated by protein and not lipid. Our findings show that physical pressure in the intestine initiate contractions propelling the bolus distally, directly towards the exit, whereas the stimuli from nutrients modulates the motility to prolong the residence time of digesta in the digestive tract for optimal digestion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Fish Proteins / genetics
  • Fish Proteins / metabolism
  • Fishes / metabolism
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Motility*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Movement*
  • Nutrients / metabolism*
  • Transcriptome*


  • Fish Proteins

Grant support

This research was funded by the RESEARCH COUNCIL OF NORWAY, grant number 244170 (Project; Intestinal function and health of ballan wrasse). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.