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Esophageal Nerves
Nervous System

Esophageal Nerves

Nervi oesophagei

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Quick Facts

Origin: Thoracic sympathetic ganglia.

Course: Medially from the thoracic sympathetic ganglia, along vagal branches or aortic vascular supply to the esophagus.

Branches: None.

Supply: Sympathetic innervation to the vascular smooth muscle of the esophagus.

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The sympathetic esophageal branches are thought to originate primarily at the first through ninth thoracic sympathetic ganglia. They are the axons of the postganglionic sympathetic neurons found in these ganglia.


The sympathetic component of the esophageal plexus comes from the thoracic sympathetic trunk, particularly from the ninth thoracic vertebral level and above (Netter, 2011). These sympathetic fibers arrive by hitchhiking on the vasculature and vagal nerves rather than as individual specific nerves.


The sympathetic esophageal branches do not give rise to distinct nerves or branches. They are distributed to the ramified esophageal plexus.

Supplied Structures & Function

Sympathetic efferent fibers in the esophageal plexus regulate smooth muscle in arterial walls. Otherwise, they have an unclear role. Some sources claim little function, while others claim a role in tonic inhibition of esophageal smooth muscle and the lower esophageal sphincter (Zfass et al., 1970; Lyrenäs and Abrahamsson, 1986; Goyal and Chaudhury, 2008).

Visceral sensory afferents in the esophagus that are associated with pain sensation are thought to travel back to the spinal cord along the routes of sympathetic efferents.

List of Clinical Correlates

—Pain associated with gastric reflux


Goyal, R. K. and Chaudhury, A. (2008) 'Physiology of normal esophageal motility', J Clin Gastroenterol, 42(5), pp. 610-9.

Lyrenäs, E. and Abrahamsson, H. (1986) 'Beta adrenergic influence on oesophageal peristalsis in man', Gut, 27(3), pp. 260-6.

Netter, F. H. (2011) Atlas of Human Anatomy. Netter Basic Science Series: Saunders/Elsevier.

Zfass, A. M., Prince, R., Allen, F. N. and Farrar, J. T. (1970) 'Inhibitory beta adrenergic receptors in the human distal esophagus', Am J Dig Dis, 15(4), pp. 303-10.

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