An Australian team of scientists has discovered a second brain in the bowel that uses electric charges to synchronize and help pass waste in the gut, and scientists are now able to understand how the second brain works.
The enteric nervous system (ENS) is a collection of millions of neurons that control movement in the intestines, but the method has always puzzled scientists–until now.
A team from Flinders University in Australia has investigated the second brain and discovered how electrical charges in the gut work to pass waste through the lower gut and out of the body.
It appears that the newly dubbed second brain works by pulsing electrical waves down through the gut, which is synchronized to help pass waste.
How It Works
“One of the great mysteries of the gastrointestinal tract is how such large populations of enteric neurons (that lie within the gut wall) enable propulsion of colonic content,” study author and neurophysiologist Nick Spencer told Science Alert.
To fully understand the entirety of the mechanism, the team from Flinders University examined the large intestines of euthanized mice, which hold 400,000 individual neurons.
Using high-resolution neuroimaging technology and electrodes to measure electrical impulses, the researchers discovered a rhythmic electric pulse in the mice intestines.
The intestines of the mice synchronize the pulses to produce contractions in the gut, which helps pass material down through the intestines and out of the body. This is unlike how the rest of the mammalian nervous system operates.
“This represents a major pattern of neuronal activity in the mammalian peripheral nervous system that has not previously been identified,” the authors wrote in the study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
The synchronized ENS activity involved the simultaneous activation of large populations of excitatory and inhibitory neurons and the putative intrinsic sensory neurons.
The colonic motor complex (CMMC) kicks in when people aren’t eating and helps move indigestible material (like bone or fiber) through the body, as well as transport bacterial populations around the bowel system.
CMMC is also responsible for the common “tummy rumbling” that stomachs are known to make when hunger strikes.
What is the most striking about the GI tract is the ability it has to operate completely independently of the brain and the spinal cord, as it is the only organ with its own nervous system.
According to the author, the knowledge of how this second brain operates could be of extreme importance, especially when developing future treatments of bowel-related illnesses like colon cancer.Related: 6 Warning Signs of Stomach Cancer that have Nothing to do with Pain
Now that this study has been published, there is essentially a blueprint that provides a deeper look into how dysfunctional neurogenic motor patterns arise along the colon and new insight as to how to begin to treat various issues.