Normal and abnormal electrical propagation in the small intestine

W. J.E.P. Lammers

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


As in other muscular organs, small intestinal motility is determined to a large degree by the electrical activities that occur in the smooth muscle layers of the small intestine. In recent decades, the interstitial cells of Cajal, located in the myenteric plexus, have been shown to be responsible for the generation and propagation of the electrical impulse: the slow wave. It was also known that the slow waves as such do not cause contraction, but that the action potentials ('spikes') that are generated by the slow waves are responsible for the contractions. Recording from large number of extracellular electrodes simultaneously is one method to determine origin and pattern of propagation of these electrical signals. This review reports the characteristics of slow wave propagation through the intestinal tube, the occurrence of propagation blocks along its length, which explains the well-known decrease in frequency, and the specific propagation pattern of the spikes that follow the slow waves. But the value of high-resolution mapping is highest in discovering and analysing mechanisms of arrhythmias in the gut. Most recently, circus movements (also called 're-entries') have been described in the small intestine in several species. Moreover, several types of re-entries have now been described, some similar to what may occur in the heart, such as functional re-entries, but others more unique to the small intestine, such as circumferential re-entry. These findings seem to suggest the possibilities of hitherto unknown pathologies that may be present in the small intestine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-359
Number of pages11
JournalActa Physiologica
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Abnormal propagation
  • Re-entry
  • Slow wave propagation
  • Spike propagation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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