Long-term effect of parasympathetic or sympathetic denervation on intestinal epithelial cell proliferation and apoptosis

Elizabeth A. Davis, Martha C. Washington, Emily R. Yaniz, Heidi Phillips, Ayman I. Sayegh, Megan J. Dailey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Intestinal epithelial tissue is constantly regenerated as a means to maintain proper tissue function. Previous studies have demonstrated that denervation of the parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous system to the intestine alters this process. However, results are inconsistent between studies, showing both increases and decreases in proliferation after denervation of the parasympathetic or sympathetic. The effect appears to correlate with (1) the timing post-denervation, (2) denervation-induced changes in food intake, (3) the denervation technique used, and (4) which intestinal segment is investigated. Thus, we proposed that parasympathetic or sympathetic denervation does not have an effect on intestinal epithelial regeneration when you (1) evaluate denervation after long-term denervation, (2) control for post-surgical changes in food intake, (3) use minimally invasive surgical techniques and (4) include a segmental analysis. To test this, adult male Sprague Dawley rats underwent parasympathetic denervation via subdiaphragmatic vagotomy, sympathetic denervation via celiacomesenteric ganglionectomy, a parasympathetic denervation sham surgery, or a sympathetic denervation sham surgery. Sham surgery ad libitum-fed groups and sham surgery pair-fed groups were used to control for surgically induced changes in food intake. Three weeks post-surgery, animals were sacrificed and tissue from the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum was excised and immunohistochemically processed to visualize indicators of proliferation (bromodeoxyuridine-positive cells) and apoptosis (caspase-3-positive cells). Results showed no differences between groups in proliferation, apoptosis, or total cell number in any intestinal segment. These results suggest that parasympathetic or sympathetic denervation does not have a significant long-term effect on intestinal epithelial turnover. Thus, intestinal epithelial regeneration is able to recover after autonomic nervous system injury. Impact statement: This study investigates the long-term effect of autonomic denervation on intestinal epithelial cell turnover, as measured by proliferation, apoptosis, and total cell number. Although previous research has established that autonomic denervation can alter intestinal epithelial turnover under short-term conditions, here we establish for the first time that these changes do not persist long-term when you control for surgical-induced changes in food intake and use targeted denervation procedures. These findings add to the base of knowledge on autonomic control of tissue turnover, highlight the ability of the intestinal epithelium to recover after autonomic injury and reveal possible implications of the use of ANS denervation for disease treatment in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1499-1507
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number15
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Intestinal epithelium
  • apoptosis
  • parasympathetic
  • proliferation
  • regeneration
  • sympathetic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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