The primary function of the gut is to procure nutrients. Synchronized mechanical activities underlie nearly all its endeavours. Coordination of mechanical activities depends on sensing of the mechanical forces, in a process called mechanosensation. The gut has a range of mechanosensory cells. They function either as specialized mechanoreceptors, which convert mechanical stimuli into coordinated physiological responses at the organ level, or as non-specialized mechanosensory cells that adjust their function based on the mechanical state of their environment. All major cell types in the gastrointestinal tract contain subpopulations that act as specialized mechanoreceptors: epithelia, smooth muscle, neurons, immune cells, and others. These cells are tuned to the physical properties of the surrounding tissue, so they can discriminate mechanical stimuli from the baseline mechanical state. The importance of gastrointestinal mechanosensation has long been recognized, but the latest discoveries of molecular identities of mechanosensors and technical advances that resolve the relevant circuitry have poised the field to make important intellectual leaps. This Review describes the mechanical factors relevant for normal function, as well as the molecules, cells and circuits involved in gastrointestinal mechanosensing. It concludes by outlining important unanswered questions in gastrointestinal mechanosensing.
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