Optogenetic activation of vagal afferents to decode viscerosensory signal processing within the brain

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.


To determine how synaptic transmission differs in the brain between sensory modalities.

Background: How different 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. These varied signals all terminate in the solitary nucleus with overlapping terminal fields.

Project: You will use optogenetic tools, that allow for the selectively activation of vagal sensory neurons, to unravel how signals from these different sensory modalities ‘talk’ to the brain using in vito slice electrophysiology. Optogenetic and electrical activation will be compared to further understand to functional determine how the local circuits are organised. This work will be highly relevant to current and future strategies to manipulation behaviour and/or autonomic function.

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