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Background:

Nicotine decreases diarrhoea and pain in ulcerative colitis without reducing inflammation.

Aims:

(i) To evaluate the effect of ulcerative proctosigmoiditis on motor functions of an uninflamed segment of descending colon; and (ii) to assess nicotine’s effects on colonic motor functions in patients and healthy subjects.

Methods:

In healthy subjects (n=30) and patients with ulcerative colitis (13; 11 active, two quiescent colitis), we studied the effects of intravenous nicotine on colonic transit of solid residue by scintigraphy (healthy subjects) and on colonic motility in healthy subjects and 11 patients.

Results:

In ulcerative colitis, fasting colonic motility was increased, whereas motor response to a meal was significantly reduced; compliance was unchanged. In healthy subjects, high-dose nicotine induced transient high amplitude propagated contractions and relaxation of the descending colon followed by decreased phasic contractions. This dose also accelerated colonic transit. Low-dose nicotine (mimicking a transdermal nicotine patch) reduced colonic compliance in healthy subjects, but did not affect motor function in ulcerative colitis.

Conclusions:

Ulcerative proctosigmoiditis increases fasting colonic motility and reduces tone response to a meal in the descending colon without affecting colonic compliance, suggesting changes in physiological responses but not intrinsic wall properties. Nicotine has dose-dependent effects on colonic motor activity in healthy subjects.