Gut peristalsis is governed by a multitude of cooperating mechanisms

Jan D. Huizinga, Wim J.E.P. Lammers

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

305 Citations (Scopus)


Peristaltic motor activity of the gut is an essential activity to sustain life. In each gut organ, a multitude of overlapping mechanisms has developed to acquire the ability of coordinated contractile activity under a variety of circumstances and in response to a variety of stimuli. The presence of several simultaneously operating control systems is a challenge for investigators who focus on the role of one particular control activity since it is often not possible to decipher which control systems are operating or dominant in a particular situation. A crucial advantage of multiple control systems is that gut motility control can withstand injury to one or more of its components. Our efforts to increase understanding of control mechanism are not helped by recent attempts to eliminate proven control systems such as interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) as pacemaker cells, or intrinsic sensory neurons, nor does it help to view peristalsis as a simple reflex. This review focuses on the role of ICC as slow-wave pacemaker cells and places ICC into the context of other control mechanisms, including control systems intrinsic to smooth muscle cells. It also addresses some areas of controversy related to the origin and propagation of pacemaker activity. The urge to simplify may have its roots in the wish to see the gut as a consequence of a single perfect design experiment whereas in reality the control mechanisms of the gut are the messy result of adaptive changes over millions of years that have created complementary and overlapping control systems. All these systems together reliably perform the task of moving and mixing gut content to provide us with essential nutrients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)G1-G8
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Interstitial cells of cajal
  • Motility
  • Pacemaker
  • Slow waves
  • Transit

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)


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