Zoology (Jena) 2012 Oct 28;115(5):319-29. Epub 2012 Aug 28.
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alabama, Box 870344, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487, USA.
At the gastroesophageal junction, most vertebrates possess a functional lower esophageal sphincter (LES) which may serve to regulate the passage of liquids and food into the stomach and prevent the reflux of gastric contents into the esophagus. Snakes seemingly lack an LES and consume meals large enough to extend anteriorly from the stomach into the esophagus thereby providing the opportunity for the reflux of gastric juices. To explore whether snakes experience or can prevent gastric reflux, we examined post-feeding changes of luminal pH of the distal esophagus and stomach, the fine scale luminal pH profile at the gastroesophageal junction, and the morphology of the gastroesophageal junction for the Burmese python (Python molurus), the African brown house snake (Lamprophis fuliginosus), and the diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer). For each species fasted, there was no distension of the gastroesophageal junction and only modest changes in luminal pH from the distal esophagus into the stomach. Feeding resulted in marked distension and changes in tissue morphology of the gastroesophageal junction. Simultaneously, there was a significant decrease in luminal pH of the distal esophagus for pythons and house snakes, and for all three species a steep gradient in luminal pH decreasing across a 3-cm span from the distal edge of the esophagus into the proximal edge of the stomach. The moderate acidification of the distal most portion of the esophagus for pythons and house snakes suggests that there is some anterior movement of gastric juices across the gastroesophageal junction. Given that this modest reflux of gastric fluid is localized to the most distal region of the esophagus, snakes are apparently able to prevent and protect against acid reflux in the absence of a functional LES.