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Mapping and defining the vagal viscerosensory information to the upper spinal cord

The McDougall/Viserosensory lab at the Florey Institute studies the basic neurophysiology underpinning the integration of sensory information within the brain. Our focus of study is at the level of the brain that first receives signals from visceral organs including those of the cardiorespiratory and gastrointestinal systems. This basic knowledge gained is pertinent to several disease states including; hypertension and obesity, and mental health. The primary techniques utilised within the laboratory revolve around anatomical mapping using viral tools in combination with in vitro slice electrophysiology. We possess a large skill-set and toolkit to answer a variety of experimental questions including optogenetics through to behavioural paradigms.

Background: Sensory signals from internal organs are organised and processed upon first entering the brain is ill defined. Viscerosensory signals arise from several functional modalities; baroreceptors, chemoreceptors, lung stretch afferents, gastrointestinal etc.

Project:  We have recently observed vagal afferents terminate in the upper spinal cord. Data gained in 1990s indicates vagal afferents may mediate a pain signals. However the modality of sensory inputs here and the ascending pathways are unknown. We will use viral tools to identify the sensory information that contributes to this little known pain neurocircuitry. 

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