Gastrointestinal extracellular electrical recordings: fact or artifact?


  • G. O’Grady

    1. Department of Surgery, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
    2. Auckland Bioengineering Institute, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
    Search for more papers by this author

Address for Correspondence
Gregory O’Grady, Department of Surgery, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand.
Tel: +64 21 448 523; fax: +64 9 377 9656;


Extracellular electrical recordings underpin an important literature of basic and clinical motility science. In the November 2011 edition of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, Sanders and colleagues reported that contraction artifacts could be recorded from in vitro murine gastric tissues using extracellular electrodes, and that true extracellular bioelectrical activity could not be detected when the contractions were suppressed. The authors interpret their findings to mean that previous extracellular studies have generally assayed contraction artifacts, rather than bioelectrical activity, and suggest that movement suppression is an obligatory control for extracellular experiments. If their interpretation is correct, these claims would be significant, requiring a reinterpretation of many studies, and posing major challenges for future in vivo and especially clinical work. However, a demonstration that motion artifacts can be recorded from murine in vitro tissue does not necessarily mean that other extracellular studies also represented artifacts. This viewpoint evaluates a recently published by Sanders and colleagues in light of the competing literature, and finds a considerable volume of evidence to support the veracity of GI extracellular electrical recordings. It is reasoned from biophysical principles, technical considerations, and experimental studies that motion artifacts cannot explain GI extracellular electrical recordings in general, and that bioelectrical fact and artifact can be readily and reliably distinguished in most contexts. Calls for obligatory motion suppression for extracellular studies are therefore not supported. However, the artifacts recorded by Sanders and colleagues nevertheless serve as a reminder that educated caution is needed when recording, filtering and interpreting extracellular data.