About Heuckeroth Lab



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The bowel is nearly 30 feet long in adults, and every region must respond to local stimuli (e.g., nutrients and stretching) to optimally manage complex and unpredictable intake without conscious thought. Fortunately, the bowel has its own elaborate nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS) that responds to sensory stimuli and controls most aspects of bowel function.

The ENS has about 500 million neurons and 2-5x as many glial cells. There are an estimated 20 neuron types that have distinct functions, neurotransmitters, morphology, and receptors. These ENS cells coordinate contraction and relaxation of the bowel, regulate blood flow, and influence epithelial function in response to local sensory stimuli. To perform these tasks, the ENS interacts closely with many other cell types including smooth muscle, pacemaker cells (interstitial cells of Cajal), enteroendocrine and other epithelial cells, muscularis macrophages and cells of the immune system, as well as with extrinsic innervation.

When the ENS or other cells that control bowel motility do not form properly or are not working well, profound bowel dysfunction may occur causing diseases like Hirschsprung disease, chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction syndrome, achalasia, and gastroparesis. In their most severe form, bowel motility defects can be life-threatening.

Dr. Heuckeroth and his research team are working to find new ways to prevent human birth defects that affect the ENS and to treat intestinal motility disorders. His team hopes to take advantage of new developments in basic science to make the lives of children better.

Donors help us continue to advance the health of children. If you would like to start a legacy of giving, please visit our Foundation page. If you have a special interest in supporting the enteric nervous system research occurring in this Lab, ask that your donation be directed to "ENS Research/Dr. Heuckeroth."