The human body has a ‘second brain’ located in its bowel, and scientists now understand the intricate way it works.
The Enteric Anxious System (ENS) has a collection of millions of nerve cells that control motion in our intestines. The specific mechanism it utilizes has eluded scientists – till now.
A group from Flinders University in Australia has investigated it and found how electrical charges in our gut work to pass waste through our lower guts and from our bodies.
It transpires that the ‘2nd brain’ works by pulsing electrical waves down through the gut, which are synchronised to assist the bowel pass waste.
The body has a 2nd brain in its bowel and researchers now understand how it works
How it works
The way the ENS worked had previously mystified researchers.
‘Among the excellent secrets of the gastrointestinal system is how such a big populations of enteric nerve cells (that lie within the gut wall) make it possible for propulsion of colonic content,’ study author and neurophysiologist Nick Spencer discussed to
ScienceAlert. In order to understand its systems, the team from Flinders University examined the large intestinal tracts of euthanised mice, which hold 400,000 private neurons.
Using high resolution neuroimaging technology, and electrodes to measure electrical impulses, the scientists discovered a balanced electrical pulsing in the mice intestinal tracts.
The intestinal tracts of the mice synchronise these pulses to produce contractions in the gut, which assist pass product down through the intestinal tracts and from the body.
This is unlike how the remainder of the mammalian anxious system operates.
‘This represents a significant pattern of neuronal activity in the mammalian peripheral anxious system that has actually not previously been determined,’ the authors wrote in the study, which was released in the Journal of Neuroscience.
‘The synchronised ENS activity included synchronised activation of large populations of excitatory and inhibitory nerve cells, as well as putative intrinsic sensory neurons.’
The ‘second brain’ works by pulsing electrical waves down to assist the bowel pass waste
This process is understood as a colonic moving motor complex (CMMC).
CMMCs occur when we’re not consuming, and help to move indigestible material (like bone or fiber) through our body, in addition to transfer bacterial populations around our bowels.
They are also accountable for ‘belly rumbling’: the loud noises our body’s make when we’re hungry.
‘It is truly a brain of its own,’ Professor Spencer said.
‘The distinct feature of the GI tract is that it is the only internal organ with its own total nervous system that can run completely independently of the brain and/or back cable.’
Spencer says that knowledge of how this 2nd brain works could help in future treatments of bowel-related illness, like bowel cancer.
‘Frequently in medicine there is a need to cure illness, without comprehending how the organ in question in fact works,’ Teacher Spencer stated.
‘Until this new study no one had any idea precisely how large populations of nerve cells in the ENS result in contraction of the intestinal tract.
‘Now that we understand how the ENS is triggered under healthy conditions … we can use this as a blueprint to comprehend how inefficient neurogenic motor patterns might occur along the colon.
‘Chronic constipation impacts a large percentage of the community worldwide, and often emerges because of improper colonic transit.’