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Keywords:

  • chemical transmitters;
  • lower urinary tract;
  • sensory transduction;
  • urinary tract dysfunction;
  • urothelium

Abstract

The urothelium separates the urinary tract lumen from underlying tissues of the tract wall. Previously considered as merely an effective barrier between these two compartments it is now recognized as a more active tissue that senses and transduces information about physical and chemical conditions within the urinary tract, such as luminal pressure, urine composition, etc. To understand this sensory function it is useful to consider the urothelium and suburothelium as a functional unit; containing uroepithelial cells, afferent and efferent nerve fibers and suburothelial interstitial cells. This structure responds to alterations in its external environment through the release of diffusible agents, such as ATP and acetylcholine, and eventually modulates the activity of afferent nerves and underlying smooth muscles. This review considers different stresses the urothelium/suburothelium responds to; the particular chemicals released; the cellular receptors that are consequently affected; and how nerve and muscle function is modulated. Brief consideration is also to regional differences in the urothelium/suburothelium along the urinary tract. The importance of different pathways in relaying sensory information in the normal urinary tract, or whether they are significant only in pathological conditions is also discussed. An operational definition of intelligence is used, whereby a system (urothelium/suburothelium) responds to external changes, to maximize the possibility of the urinary tract achieving its normal function. If so, the urothelium can be regarded as intelligent. The advantage of this approach is that input–output functions can be mathematically formulated, and the importance of different components contributing to abnormal urinary tract function can be calculated. Neurourol. Urodynam. 29:598–602, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.