Today we are privileged to bring you more news in the rare but spectacular butt/mind crossover category. Scientists at Flinders University in Australia have pulled some amazing news right out of their… hats. They’ve discovered a “second brain” of sorts in mammals, called the enteric nervous system (ENS), which controls muscle movement in the colon independently from the central nervous system (the brain in our heads). This is very important news indeed, considering the brain in our heads is an untrustworthy little bugger. We like brain butts, and we cannot lie.
The research team found about 400,000 individual neurons — controlling the colon independently — in the gastrointestinal tract of mice. Studying how these neurons function could improve treatments for many gastrointestinal ailments like irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.
Science Alert spoke with one of the researchers:
“One of the great mysteries of the gastrointestinal tract,” [Nick] Spencer explains, “is how such a large populations of enteric neurons (that lie within the gut wall) actually fire action potentials to generate contractions of the smooth muscle cells, enabling propulsion of colonic content.” [Ed.- that’s such a fancy way of saying it makes you poop.]
Using high resolution neuronal imaging and electrodes to record electrical impulses from the animals’ smooth muscle tissue, the researchers detected a rhythmic pattern of neuronal firing involving millions of cells that promote muscle contraction in the intestine, propelling waste through the body. “This represents a major pattern of neuronal activity in the mammalian peripheral nervous system that has not previously been identified,” the authors write.