Selective neuronal loss in the ageing enteric nervous system: causes and effects

Saffrey, Jill (2005). Selective neuronal loss in the ageing enteric nervous system: causes and effects. In: British Neuroscience Association Abstracts, British Neuroscience Association, 18 p. 121.


A major reduction in neuronal numbers has been consistently reported to occur in the enteric nervous system (ENS) of aged humans and rodents. This neuronal loss, which in some cases has been reported to constitute a 50% reduction in neuronal numbers, is likely to contribute to the debilitating gastrointestinal disorders that increase in incidence in the elderly. Although much remains to be learnt about the changes that take place in intestinal nerves during ageing, evidence suggests that neurodegeneration in the ageing ENS is selective; cholinergic neurones being most vulnerable. Recent work to investigate the causes of enteric neurodegeneration indicates that free radical damage may be involved and an important finding in rodents is that these neuronal losses may be prevented by calorie restriction; an indication that diet might influence gastrointestinal ageing. Thus it is of importance to understand not only how the ENS changes during ‘normal’ ageing, but also how external factors contribute to these changes. In this presentation, current knowledge of how intestinal innervation is affected during normal ageing is reviewed and recent work to investigate the mechanisms of the loss, how it impacts upon gastrointestinal physiology and how it may be protected against are described.

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