Long-term sensitization of mechanosensitive and -insensitive afferents in mice with persistent colorectal hypersensitivity

Bin Feng, Jun Ho La, Erica S. Schwartz, Takahiro Tanaka, Timothy P. McMurray, G. F. Gebhart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Afferent input contributes significantly to the pain and colorectal hypersensitivity that characterize irritable bowel syndrome. In the present study, we investigated the contributions of mechanically sensitive and mechanically insensitive afferents (MIAs; or silent afferents) to colorectal hypersensitivity. The visceromotor response to colorectal distension (CRD; 15-60 mmHg) was recorded in mice before and for weeks after intracolonic treatment with zymosan or saline. After CRD tests, the distal colorectum with the pelvic nerve attached was removed for single-fiber electrophysiological recordings. Colorectal afferent endings were located by electrical stimulation and characterized as mechanosensitive or not by blunt probing, mucosal stroking, and circumferential stretch. Intracolonic zymosan produced persistent colorectal hypersensitivity (>24 days) associated with brief colorectal inflammation. Pelvic nerve muscular-mucosal but not muscular mechanosensitive afferents recorded from mice with colorectal hypersensitivity exhibited persistent sensitization. In addition, the proportion of MIAs (relative to control) was significantly reduced from 27% to 13%, whereas the proportion of serosal afferents was significantly increased from 34% to 53%, suggesting that MIAs acquired mechanosensitivity. PGP9.5 immunostaining revealed no significant loss of colorectal nerve fiber density, suggesting that the reduction in MIAs is not due to peripheral fiber loss after intracolonic zymosan. These results indicate that colorectal MIAs and sensitized muscularmucosal afferents that respond to stretch contribute significantly to the afferent input that sustains hypersensitivity to CRD, suggesting that targeted management of colorectal afferent input could significantly reduce patients' complaints of pain and hypersensitivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)G676-G683
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Colorectal distension
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Pelvic pain
  • Single-fiber recording
  • Visceral afferent sensitization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)


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