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Keywords:

  • central nervous system;
  • gastrointestinal tract;
  • lower urinary tract;
  • neurophysiology

Abstract

Normal urinary function is contingent upon a complex hierarchy of CNS regulation. Lower urinary tract afferents synapse in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord and ascend to the midbrain periaqueductal gray (PAG), with a separate nociception path to the thalamus. A spino-thalamo-cortical sensory pathway is present in some primates, including humans. In the brainstem, the pontine micturition center (PMC) is a convergence point of multiple influences, representing a co-ordinating center for voiding. Many PMC neurones have characteristics necessary to categorize the center as a pre-motor micturition nucleus. In the lateral pontine brainstem, a separate region has some characteristics to suggest a “continence center.” Cerebral control determines that voiding is permitted if necessary, socially acceptable and in a safe setting. The frontal cortex is crucial for decision making in an emotional and social context. The anterior cingulate gyrus and insula co-ordinate processes of autonomic arousal and visceral sensation. The influence of these centers on the PMC is primarily mediated via the PAG, which also integrates bladder sensory information, thereby moderating voiding and storage of urine, and the transition between the two phases. The parabrachial nucleus in the pons is also important in behavioral motivation of waste evacuation. Lower urinary tract afferents can be modulated at multiple levels by corticolimbic centers, determining the interoception of physiological condition and the consequent emotional motor responses. Alterations in cognitive modulation, descending modulation, and hypervigilance are important in functional (symptom-based) clinical disorders. Neurourol. Urodynam. 29: 119–127, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.