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Clostridium difficile toxin A excites enteric neurones and suppresses sympathetic neurotransmission in the guinea pig


BACKGROUND AND AIMS Evidence suggests that the intestinal actions of Clostridium difficile toxin A—stimulation of secretion and motility, and an acute inflammatory response—have a neurally mediated component.

METHODS Direct intracellular electrophysiological recording of electrical and synaptic behaviour in enteric neurones was performed in the submucous plexus of guinea pig small intestine during exposure to the toxin.

RESULTS Application of toxin A affected both the electrical behaviour of the neuronal cell bodies and inhibitory noradrenergic neurotransmission to the cell bodies. Altered electrical behaviour included depolarisation and increased excitability. Tetrodotoxin or a histamine H2 receptor antagonist did not affect the depolarisation evoked by toxin A. Failure of the histamine antagonist to suppress the actions of toxin A is evidence that its actions were not mediated by degranulation of intramural mast cells. The action of toxin A on neurotransmission was suppression of inhibitory postsynaptic potentials evoked in the neuronal cell bodies by stimulation of sympathetic nerve fibres that synapsed with the cell bodies. The inhibitory postsynaptic potentials were mediated by norepinephrine (noradrenaline) acting at postsynaptic alpha adrenoceptors on the cell bodies. Hyperpolarising responses evoked in the cell bodies by micropressure application of norepinephrine were unaffected by toxin A. This fulfils criteria for a presynaptic inhibitory action of toxin A to suppress release of norepinephrine from sympathetic postganglionic axons.

CONCLUSIONS Results suggest that the neural component of the action of toxin A involves both direct excitation of enteric neurones and suppression of norepinephrine release from postganglionic sympathetic nerve fibres in the enteric nervous system.

  • enteric nervous system
  • enterotoxins
  • diarrhoea
  • intestine

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  • Abbreviations used in this paper:
    excitatory postsynaptic potential
    inhibitory postsynaptic potential
    C difficile toxin A