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.

Research interests

  • Viscerosensory processing
  • Vagus nerve
  • Mental health
  • Hypertension
  • Metabolic diseases

  • Electrophysiology
  • Imaging
  • Behavioural assays
  • Optogenetics
  • Chemogenetics

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 team

Research team head

Dr Stuart McDougall

Group Head

Team members

Research fellows

  • Dr Werner Furuya

PhD students

  • Andrew Butler
  • Yasmin Potts

Selected publications

  • Butler AG, O’Callaghan EL, Allen AM, McDougall SJ (2021), ‘Use of a physiological reflex to standardize vagal nerve stimulation intensity improves data reproducibility in a memory extinction assay’, Brain Stimulation, 14(2):450–459,  doi:10.1016/j.brs.2021.02.012
  • Bassi JK, Connelly AA, Butler AG, Liu Y, Ghanbari A, Farmer DGS, Jenkins MW, Melo MR, McDougall SJ, Allen AM (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, 530(17):3072–3103, doi:10.1002/cne.25398
  • Thek KR, Ong SJM, Carter DC, Bassi JK, Allen AM, McDougall SJ (2019), ‘Extensive inhibitory gating of viscerosensory signals by a sparse network of somatostatin neurons’, The Journal of Neuroscience, 39(41):8038–8050, doi:10.1523/jneurosci.3036-18.2019

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