• gastrointestinal tract;
  • inducible nitric oxide;
  • inflammation;
  • motility;
  • postoperative ileus;
  • surgery


Postoperative ileus is an iatrogenic condition that follows abdominal surgery. Three main mechanisms are involved in its causation, namely neurogenic, inflammatory and pharmacological mechanisms. In the acute postoperative phase, mainly spinal and supraspinal adrenergic and non-adrenergic pathways are activated. Recent studies, however, show that the prolonged phase of postoperative ileus is caused by an enteric molecular inflammatory response and the subsequent recruitment of leucocytes into the muscularis of the intestinal segments manipulated during surgery. This inflammation impairs local neuromuscular function and activates neurogenic inhibitory pathways, inhibiting motility of the entire gastrointestinal tract. The mechanisms underlying the recruitment of the inflammatory cells, and their interaction with the intestinal afferent innervation, are discussed. Finally, opioids administered for postoperative pain control also contribute to a large extent to the reduction in propulsive gastrointestinal motility observed after abdominal surgery.