Quantitative Differences Between Primary and Secondary Peristaltic Contractions of the Esophagus


Background and Aims

Differences in contraction characteristics between primary and secondary peristalsis have only been scarcely studied. Recently new measures of contractile activity in the human esophagus were developed. The study aims were to use combined manometry and impedance planimetry [pressure-cross-sectional area (P-CSA)] recordings from healthy volunteers to examine esophageal peristalsis, and, furthermore, to investigate the effect of the motility enhancing drug erythromycin to study differential effects on the two types of contractions.


Sixteen healthy volunteers participated in the study [mean age 23 (range, 19–34) years, 6 females]. An esophageal probe with a bag for CSA measurement was positioned 10 cm above the lower esophageal sphincter. Bag volume was increased stepwise from 5 to 25 ml before and after intravenous infusion of 250 mg erythromycin. Swallow-evoked primary and distension-evoked secondary esophageal peristalsis were compared with regard to (1) pressure amplitude, (2) CSA amplitude, (3) preload tension (wall tension before an evoked contraction), (4) contractile tension, and (5) work outputs.


Primary peristalsis induced more efficient contractions as the contraction amplitudes, work output and contractile tension were higher compared to secondary peristalsis (P < 0.001). Erythromycin induced change in CSA during distension-evoked secondary peristalsis (CSA before 212.9 ± 26.8 vs. after 180.5 ± 23.3, P < 0.05). The sensitivity to esophageal distension increased with the distending volume both before and during erythromycin. The sensitivity was not changed by erythromycin (P = 0.6).


Esophageal primary peristaltic contractions were more forceful with longer duration, and higher work output compared to secondary peristalsis contractions. Erythromycin affected peristalsis only to a minor degree.

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Karen Elise Jensens Foundation is thanked for financial support.

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Correspondence to Donghua Liao.

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Liao, D., Krarup, A.L., Lundager, F.H. et al. Quantitative Differences Between Primary and Secondary Peristaltic Contractions of the Esophagus. Dig Dis Sci 59, 1810–1816 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10620-014-3070-1

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  • Human esophagus
  • Pressure-cross sectional area
  • Work output
  • Primary peristalsis
  • Secondary peristalsis