Bornstein Laboratory: Enteric Neuroscience

Research Overview

The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is a large and complex network of neuron cell bodies, their axons and synaptic connections contained within the wall of the gastrointestinal tract, which is the only peripheral organ with a substantial nervous system of its own. This complex network of interconnected nerve cells makes up two ganglionated nerve plexuses: the myenteric plexus and the submucosal plexus. Each plexus has a different principal function but together regulate digestion, absorption, secretion and motility processes of the gastrointestinal tract.

The myenteric plexus is responsible for controlling intestinal motility through peristalsis which moves material along the intestine and segmentation which mixes the digesta with luminal enzymes and brings digested material into contact with the mucosa to assist with absorption of nutrients. The submucosal plexus controls absorption and secretion of fluid and electrolytes across the intestinal mucosa. Each plexus communicates with the other, so the two neural networks act together to regulate the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract.

Because the ENS can operate independently of connections with the central nervous system (CNS), it is an ideal model to study neural networks in vitro. However, input from the brain, spinal cord and endocrine system is important in coordinating gastrointestinal functions with other bodily functions. These inputs usually act by modulating the enteric neural circuitry rather than directly on the the muscle and secretory mucosa. Studying neurotransmission in the gut can also have implications for brain function as many neurotransmitters are found in both the CNS and ENS.

Our research aims to identify the various elements of the ENS, determine their physiological interactions and how these are modified in disease states.

Students who are interested in undertaking a project with Prof Joel Bornstein, Dr Elisa Hill and/or Dr Jaime Foong are encouraged to contact them directly.


Dr Jaime Foong, Post Doctorate
Dr Elisa Hill-Yardin, Post Doctorate
Ms Rachel Gwynne, Senior Research Officer
Dr Suzie Hosie, Post Doctorate
Ms Petra Unterweger, Research Assistant
Ms Candice Fung, PhD Student
Ms Katerina Koussoulas, PhD Student
Ms Mathusi Swaminathan, PhD Student
Ms Lin Hung, PhD Student
Ms Anita Leembruggen, Masters Student

photo of Bornstein lab group

First Row (Left to Right): Ms Petra Unterweger, Ms Katerina Koussoulas, Ms Candice Fung, Ms Niketa Archer, Ms Lin Hung, Mr Bomal Herath

Second Row (Left to Right): Mr Mustafa Akkaplan, Ms Mathusi Swaminathan, Ms Gracia Seger, Ms Rachel Gwynne, Dr Elisa Hill-Yardin, Professor Joel Bornstein, Dr Suzie Hosie, Dr Jaime Foong, Mrs Gayathri Balasuriya, Ms Laura Tatnell

Research Publications

  1. Chambers JD, Thomas EA, Bornstein JC Mathematical modelling of enteric neural motor patterns. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol 2014; 41: 155-164.
  2. Foong JPP, Tough IR, Cox HM, Bornstein JC Properties of cholinergic and non-cholinergic submucosal neurons along the mouse colon. J Physiol 2014; 592: 777-793.
  3. Wang G K,  Bertrand RL, Senadheera S, Polglaze KE, Murphy TV, Sandow SL, Liu L, Bornstein JC, Bertrand PP Motility changes induced by intraluminal FeSO4 in guinea pig jejunum. Neurogastro Mot 2014; 26: 385-396.
  4. Fung C, Unterweger P, Parry LJ, Bornstein JC, Foong JPP. VPAC1 receptors regulate intestinal secretion and muscle contractility by activating cholinergic neurons in guinea pig jejunum. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol 2014; 306: G748-G758.
  5. Reid CA, Leaw B, Richards KL, Richardson R, Wimmer V, Yu C, Hill-Yardin EL, Lerche H, Scheffer IE, Berkovic SF, Petrou S. Reduced dendritic arborization and hyperexcitability of pyramidal neurons in a Scn1b-based model of Dravet syndrome. Brain 2014; 137(6): 1701-15.