Pediatric enteric neuropathies: diagnosis and current management

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Neurointestinal diseases are increasingly recognized as causes of significant gastrointestinal morbidity in children. This review highlights the most common pediatric enteric neuropathies and their diagnosis and management, emphasizing insights and discoveries from the most recent literature available.

Recent findings

The embryologic and histopathologic causes of enteric neuropathies are varied. They range from congenital aganglionosis in Hirschsprung disease, to autoimmune-mediated loss of neuronal subtypes in esophageal achalasia and Chagas disease, to degenerative neuropathies in some cases of chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction and gastroparesis. Increased awareness of the clinical presentation and diagnostic evaluation of these conditions is essential as it allows for earlier initiation of treatment and improved outcomes. Most current therapies, which include medical management, neurostimulation, and operative intervention, aim to minimize the symptoms caused by these conditions. The evidence base for many of these treatments in children is poor, and multiinstitutional prospective studies are needed. An innovative therapy on the horizon involves using neuronal stem cell transplantation to treat the underlying disorder by replacing the missing or damaged neurons in these diseases.

Summary

Although recent advances in basic and clinical neurogastroenterology have significantly improved our awareness and understanding of enteric neuropathies, the efficacy of current treatment approaches is limited. The development of novel therapies, including pharmacologic modulators of neurointestinal function, neurostimulation to enhance gut motility, and neuronal cell-based therapies, is essential to improve the long-term outcomes in children with these disorders.

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