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Pharmacology of the internal anal sphincter and its relevance to faecal incontinence

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1 The internal anal sphincter (IAS) has a spontaneous tone and is the main contributor to the maintenance of faecal continence. The spontaneous resting tone exhibited by the sphincter can be modified by neurotransmitters from the autonomic and enteric nervous systems.

2 In this review, the influence of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems on IAS tone are discussed and the putative roles of nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, vasoactive intestinal peptide and adenosine triphosphate in non-adrenergic non-cholinergic transmission are considered.

3 Faecal incontinence is a common condition that places a heavy financial burden on the health service and severely affects patients’ quality of life. Resting anal pressure is reduced in patients with faecal incontinence and agents that increase sphincter tone tend to relieve symptoms. The results of clinical studies of the use of phenylephrine to treat faecal incontinence are reviewed.

4 It is concluded that the IAS is a potential target for drug development for the treatment of faecal incontinence.

Keywords: alpha1-adrenoceptor; anal sphincter; faecal incontinence; non-adrenergic; non-cholinergic transmission (NANC); smooth muscle tone

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2009-07-01

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