Coupled Oscillators in the Small Intestine

One principal function of the gastrointestinal tract is to mix ingested food and move it through the tract in the appropriate direction. It does this by contraction of the layers of smooth muscle illustrated in Fig. 21.1, contractions that are controlled on a number of different levels. At the lowest level, each smooth muscle cell has intrinsic electrical activity, which can be oscillatory in nature. At higher levels, the properties of the local oscillations are modified by extrinsic and intrinsic neuronal stimulation, or chemical stimuli. Different parts of the tract have different kinds of contractile behavior. Here, we focus on the electrical activity of the smooth muscle of the small intestine. The small intestine is itself divided into three different sections: the first 25 cm or so after the pylorus (the passage from the stomach to the small intestine, controlled by the pyloric sphincter) is called the duodenum; the next section, comprising about 40% of the length of the small intestine, is called the jejunum; while the remainder is called the ileum. However, although this nomenclature is useful for understanding some of the experimental results we present here, we do not distinguish between the electrical activity of different sections of the small intestine.

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