Perception and gut reflexes induced by stimulation of gastrointestinal thermoreceptors in humans

J Physiol. 1997 Jul 1;502 ( Pt 1)(Pt 1):215-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7793.1997.215bl.x.


1. Experimental studies in animals suggest the existence of thermoreceptors in the gastrointestinal tract. Our aim was to investigate the distribution and specificity of upper gut thermoreceptors in humans. 2. In healthy subjects, thermal stimulation of the stomach (n = 8) and the small intestine (n = 6) was produced by means of a thermostat, which recirculates water at adjusted temperatures through an ultrathin intraluminal bag. Progressively warm (42, 47 and 52 degrees C) and cold (32, 22 and 12 degrees C) stimuli of 3 min duration were alternately applied at 13 min intervals. Perception was scored on a scale of 0-6 and gastric tone responses were measured with a barostat. 3. Thermal stimuli induced specific responses: cold stimuli induced abdominal cold sensation and a reflex contraction of the stomach, whereas warm stimuli induced warm sensation and a reflex gastric relaxation. 4. Thermal stimuli induced similar stimulus-related perception in the stomach and small intestine (temperatures between 12 and 49.5 +/- 0.5 degrees C were tolerated). 5. The reflex responses were site specific. Warm and cold stimulation of the stomach induced gastric reflexes (76 +/- 26 ml isobaric expansion at 47 degrees C, and 68 +/- 10 ml contraction at 12 degrees C; P < 0.05 for both). However, only warm, not cold, stimulation of the intestine induced enterogastric reflexes. 6. These results indicate that in humans, warm and cold receptors are distributed along the gastrointestinal tract and project afferent input both into perception and reflex circuits with specific topographic organization.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cold Temperature
  • Female
  • Food
  • Gastrointestinal Contents
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Intestines / innervation*
  • Intestines / physiology
  • Male
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Skin / innervation
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thermoreceptors / physiology*