“ The gut is the pope of the torso…”

(Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report 2004)

"And the enteric nervous system is the Archbishop"

(Pasricha, 2014)

About the Enteric Nervous System

Gastrointestinal motility is a complex phenomenon that is regulated in a highly sophisticated manner. Immediate control of smooth muscle tone is effected by neurons of the myenteric plexus, contained entirely within the wall of the gut and forming part of the enteric nervous system. Through the release of excitatory (such as acetylcholine) or inhibitory (such as nitric oxide or NO), these neurons can cause contraction or relaxation of the muscle that they innervate. In addition to smooth muscle, there is another cell type- the interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC)- which appears to be critical for normal contractility. ICC are distributed throughout the gut wall interspersed with the other elements and two broad functional collections have been identified- ICC-MY (in the myenteric plexus, responsible for setting the slow wave rhythm and hence the “pace” of smooth muscle contraction) and ICC-IM (in the smooth muscle layers where they may act as “relay” elements in the communication between nerves and muscle.

Did you know?

  • The ENS has 300 or more million neurons all within the gut wall (more than the spinal cord!)

  • Capable of complex integrative function


           –Information processing

           –Motor output

  • Mutliple synaptic mechanisms and multiple neurotransmitters –   most of the body’s serotonin and  much of the dopamine is found  in the gut

  • Astroglia-like glia and interstitial   cells abound and play an active   role

  • Richly innervated by cranial (vagal)  and spinal nerves



Area of Interest/Ongoing Research

  • Structure and function of the enteric nervous system

  • Pathogenesis of gastroparesis

  • Neuropathology of functional and motility disorders

  • Novel receptors in colonic motility

  • Gender differences in enteric neurons

  • Neuromuscular communication in the enteric nervous system