Spinal Afferent Innervation of the Colon and Rectum

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Brierley, Stuart M
Hibberd, Timothy J
Spencer, Nicholas John
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Despite their seemingly elementary roles, the colon and rectum undertake a variety of key processes to ensure our overall wellbeing. Such processes are coordinated by the transmission of sensory signals from the periphery to the central nervous system, allowing communication from the gut to the brain via the “gut-brain axis”. These signals are transmitted from the peripheral terminals of extrinsic sensory nerve fibers, located within the wall of the colon or rectum, and via their axons within the spinal splanchnic and pelvic nerves to the spinal cord. Recent studies utilizing electrophysiological, anatomical and gene expression techniques indicate a surprisingly diverse set of distinct afferent subclasses, which innervate all layers of the colon and rectum. Combined these afferent sub-types allow the detection of luminal contents, low- and high-intensity stretch or contraction, in addition to the detection of inflammatory, immune, and microbial mediators. To add further complexity, the proportions of these afferents vary within splanchnic and pelvic pathways, whilst the density of the splanchnic and pelvic innervation also varies along the colon and rectum. In this review we traverse this complicated landscape to elucidate afferent function, structure, and nomenclature to provide insights into how the extrinsic sensory afferent innervation of the colon and rectum gives rise to physiological defecatory reflexes and sensations of discomfort, bloating, urgency, and pain.
Copyright © 2018 Brierley, Hibberd and Spencer. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
sensory nerve, spinal afferent, colon, sensory transduction, rectum, mouse, peripheral nervous system, dorsal root ganglia
Brierley, S. M., Hibberd, T. J., & Spencer, N. J. (2018). Spinal Afferent Innervation of the Colon and Rectum. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncel.2018.00467