Scientists made a surprising discovery about the body’s second brain

Revealing the logic of the body’s ‘second brain’.

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Scientists at Michigan State University discovered some amazing facts about the human gut’s enteric nervous system, i.e., the body’s second brain.

The intestines perform regular tasks in the enteric nervous system even if they somehow become disconnected from the central nervous system. And the number of specialized nervous system cells, namely neurons, and glia, that live in a person’s gut is roughly equivalent to the number found in a cat’s brain.

The enteric nervous system, i.e., the gut’s second brain, is an extensive network of neurons and glia lining our intestines.

Recently, scientists have shown that glial cells have a much more active role in the enteric nervous system. The new study has revealed that the glia precisely influences the signals carried by neuronal circuits.

Brian Gulbransen, an MSU Foundation Professor in the College of Natural Science’s Department of Physiology, said, “Thinking of this second brain as a computer, the glia are the chips working in the periphery. They’re an active part of the signaling network, but not like neurons. The glia is modulating or modifying the signal.”

Besides this, the glia ensures that things are running smoothly. This work sheds light on how the enteric nervous system works and offers new opportunities to treat gut disorders potentially. It could lead to how to treat irritable bowel syndrome and other disorders.

Gulbransen said, “This is a way down the line, but now we can start to ask if there’s a way to target a specific type or set of glia and change their function in some way. Drug companies are already interested in this.”

Journal Reference

  1. Ahmadzai, M. M., Seguella, L., & Gulbransen, B. D. (2021). Circuit-specific enteric glia regulate intestinal motor neurocircuits. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(40), e2025938118. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2025938118