Diminished mechanosensitivity and chemosensitivity in patients with achalasia

Stephen Brackbill, Guoxiang Shi, Ikuo Hirano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The pathogenesis of achalasia involves the degeneration of enteric and autonomic nervous systems with resultant effects on esophageal motility. The neural degeneration could affect visceral sensation in achalasia. The aim of this study was to examine mechanosensitivity and chemosensitivity in patients with achalasia. Perceptual responses to esophageal distension and acid perfusion were assessed in nine achalasia patients and nine healthy subjects. Mechanosensitivity was evaluated using a barostat with a doublerandom staircase distension protocol. Responses were graded as follows: 0, no sensation; 1, initial sensation; 2, mild discomfort; 3, moderate discomfort; and 4, pain. Chemosensitivity was graded along a visual analog scale after perfusion of saline and 0.1 N HCl. Barostat pressure-volume relationships were used to report esophageal body compliance. Barostat pressures for initial sensation and mild discomfort were not significantly different for patients and controls. The pressures for moderate discomfort (37.9 ± 3.5 vs. 25.7 ± 2.4 mmHg; P < 0.05) and pain (47.8 ± 2.3 vs. 32.2 ± 3.5 mmHg; P = 0.002) were significantly higher in achalasics than controls. Seven of the eight achalasia patients never reached pain thresholds at the maximum distension pressure (50 mmHg). Sensation to acid perfusion was significantly lower in achalasics compared with controls (2.2 ± 1.2 vs. 6.7 ± 1.7 cm; P < 0.05). Compliance was significantly increased in patients with achalasia compared with controls. We conclude that both mechanosensitivity and chemosensitivity are significantly diminished in achalasia patients compared with controls. Also, initial sensation and pain sensation are differentially affected in achalasics. These findings suggest that neuropathic defects in achalasia may manifest themselves in visceral sensory and motor dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)G1198-G1203
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number6 48-6
StatePublished - Dec 2003


  • Esophageal motility disorders
  • Motility
  • Noncardiac chest pain
  • Visceral sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)


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