The enteric nervous system in gastrointestinal disease etiology

Amy Marie Holland, Ana Carina Bon-Frauches, Daniel Keszthelyi, Veerle Melotte, Werend Boesmans*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


A highly conserved but convoluted network of neurons and glial cells, the enteric nervous system (ENS), is positioned along the wall of the gut to coordinate digestive processes and gastrointestinal homeostasis. Because ENS components are in charge of the autonomous regulation of gut function, it is inevitable that their dysfunction is central to the pathophysiology and symptom generation of gastrointestinal disease. While for neurodevelopmental disorders such as Hirschsprung, ENS pathogenesis appears to be clear-cut, the role for impaired ENS activity in the etiology of other gastrointestinal disorders is less established and is often deemed secondary to other insults like intestinal inflammation. However, mounting experimental evidence in recent years indicates that gastrointestinal homeostasis hinges on multifaceted connections between the ENS, and other cellular networks such as the intestinal epithelium, the immune system, and the intestinal microbiome. Derangement of these interactions could underlie gastrointestinal disease onset and elicit variable degrees of abnormal gut function, pinpointing, perhaps unexpectedly, the ENS as a diligent participant in idiopathic but also in inflammatory and cancerous diseases of the gut. In this review, we discuss the latest evidence on the role of the ENS in the pathogenesis of enteric neuropathies, disorders of gut-brain interaction, inflammatory bowel diseases, and colorectal cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4713-4733
Number of pages21
JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • Neural crest
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Hirschsprung disease
  • Microbiota


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