Plurichemical transmission and chemical coding of neurons in the digestive tract
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The enteric nervous system contains neurons with well-defined functions. However, when neurons of the same function are examined in different regions or species, they are found to show subtle differences in their pharmacologies of transmission and different chemical coding. Individual enteric neurons use more than one transmitter, i.e., transmission is plurichemical. For example, enteric inhibitory neurons have three or more primary transmitters, including nitric oxide, vasoactive intestinal peptide, and possibly adenosine triphosphate and pituitary adenylyl cyclase activating peptide. Primary transmitters are highly conserved, although their relative roles vary considerably between gut regions. Multiple substances, including transmitters and their synthesizing enzymes and nontransmitters (such as neurofilament proteins), provide neurons with a chemical coding through which their functions and projections can be identified. Although equivalent neurons in different regions have the same primary transmitters, other chemical markers differ substantially. Caution must be taken in extrapolating pharmacological and neurochemical observations between species or even between regions in the one species. On the other hand, careful interregion and interspecies comparisons lead to an understanding of the features of enteric neurons that are highly conserved and can be used in valid extrapolation.