Digestion and absorption of nutrients and the secretion and reabsorption of fluid in the gastrointestinal tract are regulated by neurons of the enteric nervous system (ENS), the extensive peripheral nerve network contained within the intestinal wall. The ENS is an important physiological model for the study of neural networks since it is both complex and accessible. At least 20 different neurochemically and functionally distinct classes of enteric neurons have been identified in the guinea pig ileum. These neurons express a wide range of ionotropic and metabotropic receptors. Synaptic potentials mediated by ionotropic receptors such as the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, P2X purinoceptors and 5-HT3 receptors are seen in many enteric neurons. However, prominent synaptic potentials mediated by metabotropic receptors, like the P2Y1 receptor and the NK1 receptor, are also seen in these neurons. Studies of synaptic transmission between the different neuron classes within the enteric neural pathways have shown that both ionotropic and metabotropic synaptic potentials play major roles at distinct synapses within simple reflex pathways. However, there are still functional synapses at which no known transmitter or receptor has been identified. This review describes the identified roles for both ionotropic and metabotropic neurotransmission at functionally defined synapses within the guinea pig ileum ENS. It is concluded that metabotropic synaptic potentials act as primary transmitters at some synapses. It is suggested identification of the interactions between different synaptic potentials in the production of complex behaviours will require the use of well validated computer models of the enteric neural circuitry.
Keywords: Ionotropic receptors, metabotropic receptors, enteric nervous system, intestinal reflexes, synaptic transmission, slow EPSPs, IPSPs, fast EPSPs
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