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GABA and GABA receptors in the gastrointestinal tract: from motility to inflammation


Although an extensive body of literature confirmed γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) as mediator within the enteric nervous system (ENS) controlling gastrointestinal (GI) function, the true significance of GABAergic signalling in the gut is still a matter of debate. GABAergic cells in the bowel include neuronal and endocrine-like cells, suggesting GABA as modulator of both motor and secretory GI activity. GABA effects in the GI tract depend on the activation of ionotropic GABAA and GABAC receptors and metabotropic GABAB receptors, resulting in a potential noteworthy regulation of both the excitatory and inhibitory signalling in the ENS. However, the preservation of GABAergic signalling in the gut could not be limited to the maintenance of physiologic intestinal activity. Indeed, a series of interesting studies have suggested a potential key role of GABA in the promising field of neuroimmune interaction, being involved in the modulation of immune cell activity associated with different systemic and enteric inflammatory conditions. Given the urgency of novel therapeutic strategies against chronic immunity-related pathologies, i.e. multiple sclerosis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease, an in-depth comprehension of the enteric GABAergic system in health and disease could provide the basis for new clinical application of nerve-driven immunity. Hence, in the attempt to drive novel researches addressing both the physiological and pathological importance of the GABAergic signalling in the gut, we summarized current evidence on GABA and GABA receptor function in the different parts of the GI tract, with particular focus on the potential involvement in the modulation of GI motility and inflammation.