Pharmacological dissection of the human gastro-oesophageal segment into three sphincteric components.
Quantifications of gastro-oesophageal anatomy in cadavers have led some to identify the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) with the anatomical gastric sling-clasp fibres at the oesophago-cardiac junction (OCJ). However, in vivo studies have led others to argue for two overlapping components proximally displaced from the OCJ: an extrinsic crural sphincter of skeletal muscle and an intrinsic physiological sphincter of circular smooth-muscle fibres within the abdominal oesophagus. Our aims were to separate and quantify in vivo the skeletal and smooth muscle sphincteric components pharmacologically and clarify the description of the LOS. In two protocols an endoluminal ultrasound-manometry assembly was drawn through the human gastro-oesophageal segment to correlate sphincteric pressure with the anatomic crus. In protocol I, fifteen normal subjects maintained the costal diaphragm at inferior/superior positions by full inspiration/expiration (FI/FE) during pull-throughs. These were repeated after administering atropine to suppress the cholinergic smooth-muscle sphincter. The cholinergic component was reconstructed by subtracting the atropine-resistant pressures from the full pressures, referenced to the anatomic crus. To evaluate the extent to which the cholinergic contribution approximated the full smooth-muscle sphincter, in protocol II seven patients undergoing general anaesthesia for non-oesophageal pathology were administered cisatracurium to paralyse the crus. The smooth-muscle sphincter pressures were measured after lung inflation to approximate FI. The cholinergic smooth-muscle pressure profile in protocol I (FI) matched closely the post-cisatracurium smooth-muscle pressure profile in protocol II, and the atropine-resistant pressure profiles correlated spatially with the crural sling during diaphragmatic displacement. Thus, the atropine-resistant and cholinergic pressure contributions in protocol I approximated the skeletal and smooth muscle sphincteric components. The smooth-muscle pressures had well-defined upper and lower peaks. The upper peak overlapped and displaced rigidly with the crural sling, while the distal peak separated from the crus/upper-peak by 1.1 cm between FI and FE. These results suggest the existence of separate upper and lower intrinsic smooth-muscle components. The 'upper LOS' overlaps and displaces with the crural sling consistent with a physiological LOS. The distal smooth-muscle pressure peak defines a 'lower LOS' that likely reflects the gastric sling/clasp muscle fibres at the OCJ. The distinct physiology of these three components may underlie aspects of normal sphincteric function, and complexity of sphincter dysfunction.