Extrinsic Sensory Innervation of the Gut: Structure and Function
Extrinsic sensory neurons play a key role in the function of the gastrointestinal tract. They are responsible for the sensations that arise in the gut and can initiate automatic reflexes. In some cases, disordered sensation is clinically problematic—pain, bloating, excessive urgency and nausea are well-known examples. Major advances have been made in understanding the function of somatic sensory neurons in the last 50 years. However, the sensory neurons that mediate sensations from the viscera remain less well understood. This is partly because viscera receive a dense autonomic innervation that can be difficult to separate from extrinsic sensory neurons. A key requirement to understand the genesis of sensation is to distinguish the different classes of sensory neurons and the types of stimuli which they encode. The aim of this short paper is to summarise what was known about these matters 30 years ago and highlight some of the major advances in the understanding of the types of extrinsic sensory neurons to the gut. Necessarily, the choice of papers is somewhat idiosyncratic, but they illustrate the range of advances that have been made in distinguishing the different classes of gastrointestinal afferent nerves.
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