Mechanisms responsible for neuromuscular relaxation in the gastrointestinal tract

Diana Gallego, Noemí Mañé, Víctor Gil, Miriam Martínez-Cutillas, Marcel Jiménez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016. SEPD y ARÁN EDICIONES, S.L. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is responsible for the genesis of motor patterns ensuring an appropriate intestinal transit. Enteric motor neurons are classified into afferent neurons, interneurons and motorneurons. Motorneurons are excitatory or inhibitory causing smooth muscle contraction and relaxation respectively. Muscle relaxation mechanisms are key for the understanding of physiological processes such as sphincter relaxation, gastric accommodation, or the descending phase of the peristaltic reflex. Nitric oxide (NO) and ATP or a related purine are the primary inhibitory neurotransmitters. Nitrergic neurons synthesize NO through nNOS enzyme activity. NO diffuses across the cell membrane to bind guanylyl cyclase, and then activates a number of intracellular mechanisms that ultimately result in muscle relaxation. ATP is an inhibitory neurotransmitter together with NO. The P2Y1 receptor has been identified as a the purine receptor responsible for smooth muscle relaxation. Although, probably, no clinician doubts about the significance of NO in the pathophysiology of gastrointestinal motility, the relevance of purinergic neurotransmission is apparently much lower, as ATP has not been associated with any specific motor dysfunction yet. The goal of this review is to discuss the function of both relaxation mechanisms in order to establish the physiological grounds of potential motor dysfunctions arising from impaired intestinal relaxation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)721-731
JournalRevista Espanola de Enfermedades Digestivas
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • ATP
  • Enteric nervous system
  • Inhibitory neurotransmission
  • Nitric oxide
  • P2Y receptors 1


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