Post inflammatory damage to the enteric nervous system in diverticular disease and its relationship to symptoms


John Simpson, Department of General Surgery, Wolfson Digestive Diseases Centre, Floor E, West Block, University Hospital, Nottingham NG7 2UH, UK.
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Abstract:  Some patients with colonic diverticula suffer recurrent abdominal pain and exhibit visceral hypersensitivity, though the mechanism is unclear. Prior diverticulitis increases the risk of being symptomatic while experimental colitis in animals increases expression of neuropeptides within the enteric nervous system (ENS) which may mediate visceral hypersensitivity. Our aim was to determine the expression of neuropeptides within the ENS in diverticulitis (study 1) and in patients with symptomatic disease (study 2). Study 1 – Nerves in colonic resection specimens with either acute diverticulitis (AD, n = 16) or chronic diverticulitis (CD, n = 16) were assessed for neuropeptide expression recording % area staining with protein gene product (PGP9.5), substance P (SP), neuropeptide K (NPK), pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide (PACAP), vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) and galanin. Study 2 – Seventeen symptomatic and 15 asymptomatic patients with colonic diverticula underwent flexible sigmoidoscopy and multiple peridiverticular mucosal biopsies. Study 1– Neural tissue, as assessed by PGP staining was increased to a similar degree in circular muscle in both AD and CD. The CD specimens showed significant increases in the immunoreactivity of SP, NPK and galanin in both mucosal and circular muscle layer compared with controls. Study 2 – Mucosal histology was normal and PGP9.5 staining was similar between groups however patients with symptomatic diverticular disease demonstrated significantly higher levels of SP, NPK, VIP, PACAP and galanin within the mucosal plexus. Patients with symptomatic diverticular disease exhibit increased neuropeptides in mucosal biopsies which may reflect resolved prior inflammation, as it parallels the changes seen in acute and chronic diverticulitis.