Imaging activity in nerves that mediate pain from gastrointestinal organs

Authors: Lipták P. 1;  Pavelková N. 2,3;  Harsányiová J. 2,3;  Bánovčin P. jr. 1;  Kollárik M. 3
Authors‘ workplace: Interná klinika – gastroenterologická JLF UK a UN Martin, Slovenská republika 1;  Ústav patologickej fyziológie, JLF UK v Bratislave, Slovenská republika 2;  Department of Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida, USA 3
Published in: Gastroent Hepatol 2019; 73(4): 313-318
Category: Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology: Review Article


Background: Visceral afferent nerves project from internal organs and provide information to the central nervous system. The role of afferent nerves in the pathogenesis and symptoms of gastrointestinal diseases is often underappreciated. Nonetheless, pain, heartburn, fullness, nausea, and vomiting are all mediated by visceral afferent nerves. Furthermore, stimulation of visceral afferent nerves by inflammation in diseases disrupts the normal regulation of gastrointestinal secretion and motility, thereby contributing to symptoms ranging from dysphagia to diarrhea and constipation. Thus, therapeutic targeting of visceral afferent nerves may aid the treatment of many gastrointestinal diseases. However, the development of novel drugs targeting visceral afferent nerves is hindered by the limited knowledge of these nerves. For example, the identities of the acid receptors in esophageal nerves that cause heartburn and the ion channels responsible for mechanical activation in nerves that mediate colic pain have not been fully elucidated. The limited knowledge of visceral afferent nerves is largely attributable to difficulties associated with their study; only one nerve fiber can typically be studied at a time by classical electrophysiology.

Purpose: Here, we report the adaptation of a cutting-edge high-throughput method to study gastrointestinal afferent nerves that allows the activity in hundreds of neurons to be imaged simultaneously. This method is based on genetic expression of the fluorescent calcium indicator GCaMP6 and multiphoton microscopy in transgenic mice. In addition to providing fundamental information about visceral afferent nerves, future iterations of this method are expected to enable studies of nerve activity in biopsies from patients with gastrointestinal diseases.

Submitted: 11. 6. 2019

Accepted: 27. 7. 2019

Conflict of Interest: The authors declare that the article/manuscript complies with ethical standards, patient anonymity has been respected, and states that they have no financial, advisory or other commercial interests in relation to the subject matter.

Publication Ethics: The article/manuscript has not been published or is currently being submitted to another review.

The authors agree to publish their name and e-mail in the published article/manuscript.

Dedication: The article/manuscript is not supported by a grant nor has it been created with the support of any company.

The Editorial Board declares that the manuscript met the ICMJE „uniform requirements“ for biomedical papers.


innervation – gastrointestinal tract – pain – microscopy


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