Nitrergic enteric neurons are key players of the descending inhibitory reflex of intestinal peristalsis, therefore loss or damage of these neurons can contribute to developing gastrointestinal motility disturbances suffered by patients worldwide. There is accumulating evidence that the vulnerability of nitrergic enteric neurons to neuropathy is strictly region-specific and that the two main enteric plexuses display different nitrergic neuronal damage. Alterations both in the proportion of the nitrergic subpopulation and in the total number of enteric neurons suggest that modification of the neurochemical character or neuronal death occurs in the investigated gut segments. This review aims to summarize the gastrointestinal region and/or plexus-dependent pathological changes in the number of nitric oxide synthase (NOS)-containing neurons, the NO release and the cellular and subcellular expression of different NOS isoforms. Additionally, some of the underlying mechanisms associated with the nitrergic pathway in the background of different diseases, e.g., type 1 diabetes, chronic alcoholism, intestinal inflammation or ischaemia, will be discussed.
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