J. Neurosci. 29, 9683–9699 (2009)

Even in adulthood, gut neurons can renew themselves, scientists have found.

Mintsai Liu at Columbia University in New York and her colleagues compared neurons in the guts of normal mice with those from mice lacking a receptor for serotonin (5-HT), a neurotransmitter associated with adult nerve generation in other parts of the body.

They found that knocking out this receptor, 5-HT4, prevents the proliferation of neurons usually seen in the gut of newborn mice. In normal mice, drugs that activate 5-HT4 receptors promote neuron survival and stimulate stem cells to make new neurons.

The authors suggest that such drugs might be developed to repair damage to the enteric nervous system as might occur in inflammatory bowel disease.