High-resolution ultrasound and speckle tracking: a non-invasive approach to assess in vivo gastrointestinal motility during development

Development. 2022 Aug 15;149(16):dev200625. doi: 10.1242/dev.200625. Epub 2022 Aug 30.


Gastrointestinal motor activity has been extensively studied in adults; however, only few studies have investigated fetal motor skills. It is unknown when the gastrointestinal tract starts to contract during the embryonic period and how this function evolves during development. Here, we adapted a non-invasive high-resolution echography technique combined with speckle tracking analysis to examine the gastrointestinal tract motor activity dynamics during chick embryo development. We provided the first recordings of fetal gastrointestinal motility in living embryos without anesthesia. We found that, although gastrointestinal contractions appear very early during development, they become synchronized only at the end of the fetal period. To validate this approach, we used various pharmacological inhibitors and BAPX1 gene overexpression in vivo. We found that the enteric nervous system determines the onset of the synchronized contractions in the stomach. Moreover, alteration of smooth muscle fiber organization led to an impairment of this functional activity. Altogether, our findings show that non-invasive high-resolution echography and speckle tracking analysis allows visualization and quantification of gastrointestinal motility during development and highlight the progressive acquisition of functional and coordinated gastrointestinal motility before birth.

Keywords: Chick model; Enteric nervous system; Gastrointestinal; Smooth muscle; Ultrasound echography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chick Embryo
  • Enteric Nervous System*
  • Gastrointestinal Motility* / physiology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / diagnostic imaging
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle
  • Ultrasonography