Intrinsic primary afferent neuronsof the intestine
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After a long period of inconclusive observations, the intrinsic primary afferent neurons of the intestine have been identified. The intestine is thus equipped with two groups of afferent neurons, those with cell bodies in cranial and dorsal root ganglia, and these recently identified afferent neurons with cell bodies in the wall of the intestine. The first, tentative, identification of intrinsic primary afferent neurons was by their morphology, which is type II in the terminology of Dogiel. These are multipolar neurons, with some axons that project to other nerve cells in the intestine and other axons that project to the mucosa. Definitive identification came only recently when action potentials were recorded intracellularly from Dogiel type II neurons in response to chemicals applied to the lumenal surface of the intestine and in response to tension in the muscle. These action potentials persisted after all synaptic transmission was blocked, proving the Dogiel type II neurons to be primary afferent neurons. Less direct evidence indicates that intrinsic primary afferent neurons that respond to mechanical stimulation of the mucosal lining are also Dogiel type II neurons. Electrophysiologically, the Dogiel type II neurons are referred to as AH neurons. They exhibit broad action potentials that are followed by early and late afterhyperpolarizing potentials. The intrinsic primary afferent neurons connect with each other at synapses where they transmit via slow excitatory postsynaptic potentials, that last for tens of seconds. Thus the intrinsic primary afferent neurons form self-reinforcing networks. The slow excitatory postsynaptic potentials counteract the late afterhyperpolarizing potentials, thereby increasing the period during which the cells can fire action potentials at high rates. Intrinsic primary afferent neurons transmit to second order neurons (interneurons and motor neurons) via both slow and fast excitatory postsynaptic potentials. Excitation of the intrinsic primary afferent neurons by lumenal chemicals or mechanical stimulation of the mucosa appears to be indirect, via the release of active compounds from endocrine cells in the epithelium. Stretch-induced activation of the intrinsic primary afferent neurons is at least partly dependent on tension generation in smooth muscle, that is itself sensitive to stretch. The intrinsic primary afferent neurons of the intestine are the only vertebrate primary afferent neurons so far identified with cell bodies in a peripheral organ. They are multipolar and receive synapses on their cell bodies, unlike cranial and spinal primary afferent neurons. They communicate with each other via slow excitatory synaptic potentials in self reinforcing networks and with interneurons and motor neurons via both fast and slow EPSPs.
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