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Central control of visceral pain and urinary tract function

Published:February 06, 2016DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autneu.2016.02.001

      Highlights

      • Central nervous control of bladder function
      • Differential processing of Aδ and C fibre input from the bladder by the central nervous system
      • Regulation of the micturition circuitry during sleep and wakefulness
      • Long term impact of psychosocial stress on bladder function – epigenetic and environmental effects

      Abstract

      Afferent input from Aδ and C-fibres innervating the urinary bladder are processed differently by the brain, and have different roles in signaling bladder sensation. Aδ fibres that signal bladder filling activate a spino-bulbo-spinal loop, which relays in the midbrain periaqueductal grey (PAG) and pontine micturition centre (PMC). The excitability of this circuitry is regulated by tonic GABAergic inhibitory processes. In humans and socialised animals micturition is normally under volitional control and influenced by a host of psychosocial factors. Higher nervous decision-making in a social context to ‘go now’ or ‘do not go’ probably resides in frontal cortical areas, which act as a central control switch for micturition. Exposure to psychosocial stress can have profoundly disruptive influence on the process and lead to maladaptive changes in the bladder. During sleeping the voiding reflex threshold appears to be reset to a higher level to promote urinary continence.
      Under physiological conditions C-fibre bladder afferents are normally silent but are activated in inflammatory bladder states and by intense distending pressure. Following prolonged stimulation visceral nociceptors sensitise, leading to a lowered threshold and heightened sensitivity. In addition, sensitization may occur within the central pain processing circuitry, which outlasts the original nociceptive insult. Visceral nociception may also be influenced by genetic and environmental influences. A period of chronic stress can produce increased sensitivity to visceral pain that lasts for months. Adverse early life events can produce even longer lasting epigenetic changes, which increase the individual's susceptibility to developing visceral pain states in adulthood.

      Graphical abstract

      Keywords

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