Viscerosensory Group

We study the basic neurophysiology underpinning integration of sensory information within the brain.

Our focus of study is at the level of the brain stem, a region in the brain that first receives signals from visceral organs including those of the cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. Knowledge about how the brain and internal organs co-ordinate is relevant to several disease states, autonomic related; hypertension and obesity and mental health; stress and depression.

Sensory signals concerning internal organ function is termed ‘viscerosensory’ blood pressure for example. We study how the neural network within the brain is organised; how viscerosensory information modifies behaviour (anxiety) and visceral organ function during disease (hypertension). Equally, how behaviour (stress/depression) and disease (obesity) modify autonomic reflexes to alter visceral organ function.

About our research

The primary techniques used within the laboratory revolve around in vitro slice electrophysiology. We possess a large skill set and toolkit to answer a variety of experimental questions including optogenetics, chemogenetics, behavioural paradigms, immunohistochemisty, stereotaxic and other recoverable surgeries that frame our synaptic studies within a larger context.

Research interests

  • Viscerosensory processing
  • Vagus nerve
  • Metabolic diseases


  • Electrophysiology
  • Imaging
  • Behavioural assays
  • Optogenetics
  • Chemogenetics

‘The mind is the body, the body is the mind’

Research team

Research team head

Headshot_Stuart McDougall

Dr Stuart McDougall

Group Head

Team members

Research fellows

  • Dr Werner Furuya


PhD students

  • Kimberly Thek
  • Andrew Butler
  • Michel Ringuet
  • Yasmin Potts

Master students

  • Haidong Zhu


  • Butler, A.G., O’Callaghan, E.L., Allen, A.M. and McDougall, S.J. (2021). Use of a physiological reflex to standardize vagal nerve stimulation intensity improves data reproducibility in a memory extinction assay. Brain Stimulation, [online] 14(2), pp.450–459. doi:
  • Bassi, J.K., Connelly, A.A., Butler, A.G., Liu, Y., Ghanbari, A., Farmer, D.G.S., Jenkins, M.W., Melo, M.R., McDougall, S.J. and Allen, A.M. (2022). Analysis of the distribution of vagal afferent projections from different peripheral organs to the nucleus of the solitary tract in rats. The Journal of Comparative Neurology, [online] 530(17), pp.3072–3103. doi:
  • Thek, K.R., Ong, S.J.M., Carter, D.C., Bassi, J.K., Allen, A.M. and McDougall, S.J. (2019). Extensive Inhibitory Gating of Viscerosensory Signals by a Sparse Network of Somatostatin Neurons. The Journal of Neuroscience, 39(41), pp.8038–8050. doi:

Contact us

Dr Stuart McDougall

Group Head
[email protected]