As early as the 2nd century, Galen proposed that ‘vital spirits’ in the blood regulated human bodily functions. However, the concept of hormonal activity required a further 18 centuries to develop and relied upon the identification of ‘ductless glands’, Schwann’s cell and the recognition by Bayliss and Starling of chemical messengers. Bernard’s introduction of ‘internal secretion’ and its role in homeostasis laid a physiological basis for the development of endocrinology. Kocher and Addison recognized the consequences of ablation of glands by disease or surgery and identified their necessary role in life. Detailed descriptions of the endocrine cells of the gut and pancreas and their putative function were provided by Heidenhain, Langerhans, Laguesse and Sharpey-Schäfer. Despite the dominant 19th century concept of nervism (Pavlov), in 1902, Starling and Bayliss using Hardy’s term ‘hormonos’ described secretin and in so doing, established the gut as an endocrine organ. Thus, nervism was supplanted by hormonal regulation of function and thereafter numerous bioactive gut peptides and amines were identified. At virtually the same time (1892), Ramón y Cajal of Madrid reported the existence of a group of specialized intestinal cells that he referred to as ‘interstitial cells’. Cajal postulated that they might function as an interface between the neural system and the smooth muscles of the gut. Some 22 years later, Keith suggested that their function might be analogous to the electroconductive system of the heart and proposed their role as components of an intestinal pacemaker system. This prescient hypothesis was subsequently confirmed in 1982 by Thuneberg and a decade later Maede identified c-Kit as a critical molecular regulator in the development and function of the interstitial cells of Cajal and further confirmed the commonality of neural and endocrine cells. The additional characterization of the endocrine regulatory system of the GI tract was implemented when Feyrter (1938) using Masson’s staining techniques, identified ‘helle Zellen’ within the pancreatic ductal system and the intestinal epithelium and proposed the concept of a diffuse neuroendocrine system. Pearse subsequently grouped the various cells belonging to that system under the rubric of a unifying APUD series. Currently, the gut neuroendocrine system is viewed as a syncytium of neural and endocrine cells sharing a common cell lineage whose phenotypic regulation is as yet unclear. Their key role in the regulation of gastrointestinal function is, however, indubitable.