Using a newly developed imaging technique, a team of researchers in Australia has directly observed a unique neural motor firing pattern outside of the brain or central nervous system. The pattern of neuronal firing, in the intestine, showed exactly how our enteric nervous system coordinates contractions in our gastrointestinal tract.
The enteric nervous system (ENS) is a massive mesh of neurons located in our gastrointestinal tract. It's the largest collection of neurons found in the body outside of the brain, and because of its ability to operate entirely independently it has often been referred to as our "second brain."
It is only recently that science has begun to seriously look at how this so-called second brain actually functions. While we have countless studies correlating neuronal firing in the brain with assorted physical actions, there has been little examination into how neuronal firing in the ENS results in intestinal muscle activity.
The new research outlines the development of a new, high resolution neuronal imaging method designed to expressly examine neuronal firing in the ENS. Using mice models, the researchers were able to watch the rhythmic firing of neurons and see the subsequent contractions in intestinal muscles. This is the first time this kind of repetitive rhythmic neuronal firing pattern has been directly observed in the ENS and the researchers suggest it could be an ancient neuronal pattern that evolved in humans a long time ago.