Ageing of the enteric nervous system

Saffrey, M. Jill (2004). Ageing of the enteric nervous system. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, 125(12) pp. 899–906.



The intrinsic neurones of the enteric nervous system (ENS) play a fundamental role in the regulation of gastrointestinal functions. Although much remains to be learnt about the changes that take place in intestinal nerves during ageing, evidence suggests that selective neurodegeneration may occur in the ageing ENS. Age-associated changes in intestinal innervation may contribute to the gastrointestinal disorders that increase in incidence in the elderly, such as dysphagia, gastrointestinal reflux and constipation. A number of other factors, such as immobility, co-morbidity, and side effects of therapeutic medication for other disorders however, are also likely to contribute to the aetiology of these conditions. An important finding in rodents is that the neuronal losses that take place in the ENS during ageing may be prevented by calorie restriction; an indication that diet may 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. Here, current knowledge of how intestinal innervation is affected during normal ageing and how these changes may impact upon gastrointestinal physiology are reviewed.

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