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Embryogenesis reveals the role of the 'second brain' in digestion

Embryogenesis reveals the role of the 'second brain' in digestion
Contractions through the embryonic gut. Credit: Nicolas Chevalier et al.
Two muscles in the gut transport and combine ingested food, and in between them is an autonomous network of neurons known as "the second brain."

By studying the development of digestion-related movement in chicken embryos, a team of researchers from the CNRS and the Université de Paris have discovered how neurons control the muscular contractions involved in digestion.

The first movements in an intestine are purely muscular, but researchers discovered that once activated, the intestinal nervous system coordinates these two muscles: when the first one contracts to push food through the gut, neurons, deformed by this movement, order the second muscle to relax, thus opening the passage.

Studying these reflexes at the embryonic stage provides further insight into how these organs function and can be affected by illness.

Embryogenesis reveals the role of the 'second brain' in digestion
The enteric nervous system in a 16-day old chicken embryo, the point at which it begins to control muscular contractions in the gut. This neural network is located in between circular and longitudinal muscle layers and controls them. Credit: Nicolas Chevalier et al.

More information:
Nicolas R. Chevalier et al, Embryogenesis of the peristaltic reflex, The Journal of Physiology (2019). DOI: 10.1113/JP277746

Provided by CNRS