Enteroendocrine cells: a review of their role in brain–gut communication

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Abstract

Background

Specialized endoderm-derived epithelial cells, that is, enteroendocrine cells (EECs), are widely distributed throughout the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Enteroendocrine cells form the largest endocrine organ in the body and play a key role in the control of GI secretion and motility, the regulation of food intake, postprandial glucose levels and metabolism. EECs sense luminal content and release signaling molecules that can enter the circulation to act as classic hormones on distant targets, act locally on neighboring cells and on distinct neuronal pathways including enteric and extrinsic neurons. Recent studies have shed light on EEC sensory transmission by showing direct connections between EECs and the nervous system via axon-like processes that form a well-defined neuroepithelial circuits through which EECs can directly communicate with the neurons innervating the GI tract to initiate appropriate functional responses.

Purpose

This review will highlight the role played by the EECs in the complex and integrated sensory information responses, and discuss the new findings regarding EECs in the brain–gut axis bidirectional communication.

Enteroendocrine cells sense luminal content and release signaling molecules that can enter the circulation to act as classic hormones on distant targets, act locally on neighboring cells, and on distinct neuronal pathways including enteric and extrinsic neurons. Recent studies have shed light on EEC sensory transmission by showing direct connections between EECs and the nervous system via axon-like processes that form a well-defined neuroepithelial circuits through which EECs can directly communicate with the neurons innervating the GI tract to initiate appropriate functional responses.

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