Mon. Oct 18th, 2021
 
A 'Second Brain' In Your Gut: Research

A ‘Second Brain’ In Your Gut: Research

Going straight to the top of the list of sentences you probably weren’t expecting to read – you have a ‘second brain’ in your gut.

 

It’s known as the enteric nervous system (ENS) and in evolutionary terms has probably been around much longer than the brain you’re currently using to read and understand these words. Research into the ENS published in August 2021 offers new insights into how it works and the extent to which the ENS is similar to other neural networks throughout the human body, including those found in the brain and spinal cord.

A ‘Second Brain’ In Your Gut: Research

A 'Second Brain' In Your Gut: Research
A ‘Second Brain’ In Your Gut: Research

 

What is the enteric nervous system?

The ENS is a web of neurons found in the wall of the gastrointestinal system. It stretches from the bottom of the tube that connects the throat to the stomach, the oesophagus, through to the rectum.

Studies estimate that the ENS actually contains more neurons than the whole of the spinal cord.

 

Function of the enteric nervous system

 

Its chief function is to keep things moving properly. That includes propelling food and drink along the digestive tract, which it does via a series of muscles contracting and relaxing in harmony. It ensures the contents of the intestines are well mixed, to maximize the absorption of nutrients.

 

The latest research was led by Nick Spencer, a professor at Australia’s Flinders University. Spencer’s team studied mice using high-resolution video in combination with an analysis of electrical activity.

 

According to the study, published in the journal Communications Biology, how the ENS coordinates propulsion of food and drink along the gastrointestinal tract has been a “major unresolved issue”.

 

The paper describes how the ENS is “far more complex than expected and considerably different from the mechanisms that underlie the propulsion of fluid along other muscle organs that have evolved without an intrinsic nervous system.”

 

Among its main findings is how the thousands of neurons inside the ENS communicate with each other to help the digestive process by causing contractions in the gastrointestinal tract.

 

The Flinders University team’s findings also suggest that far from being the second brain, the ENS is probably much older in evolutionary terms and could even be regarded as the body’s first brain.

Subhangee Guha

Break the Newz.

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