Development of autonomic and nociceptive circuits

Project Details

This project is linked to our  research  funded by the US NIH (NIDDK) GUDMAP consortium.

It is especially suited to students with a strong background in developmental biology or neural structures who are motivated to understand how the developing nervous system connects with the organs to form visceral nerve circuits.

Urogenital function is regulated by: autonomic motor neurons in the pelvic ganglia (known as the inferior hypogastric plexus in people) and visceral sensory neurons in lumbosacral and thoracolumbar dorsal root ganglia. Pelvic ganglia differ from most other parts of the autonomic nervous system: being very different in males and females, retaining sensitivity to actions of steroids in adulthood, and most unusually comprising a mixture of sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic motor neurons.

This raises questions as to how these sexually dimorphic ganglia form and make correct connections with projecting inputs from two different regions of the spinal cord (lumbar and sacral). However, very little is known about how this part of the autonomic nervous system develops and what initiates its sexual dimorphism. Further research is needed to understanding developmental abnormalities and may also point to mechanisms that can be activated in adults to repair axons after injury.

We can also offer study options for investigating the unique features of developing sacral nociceptive neurons that are later involved in sexually dimorphic pelvic pain conditions.

Whole thickness preparation of adult mouse pelvic ganglion

Figure 1: Whole thickness preparation of adult mouse pelvic ganglion showing sympathetic neurons (green, labelled for tyrosine hydroxylase) intermingled with parasympathetic neurons (red, labelled for nitric oxide synthase). This ganglion is from a male, where there are almost twice as many neurons as in females.


US National Institutes of Health 2021-2026
National Institute of Diabetes Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK); GenitoUrinary Development Molecular Anatomy Project (GUDMAP):
Building a multi-scale vascular atlas of the mouse lower urinary tract

US National Institutes of Health 2013-2015
National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK); Nociceptive GenitoUrinary Development Molecular Anatomy Project (nGUDMAP):
Molecular and spatial mapping of bladder nociceptors during development and maturation'

US National Institutes of Health 2011-2016
National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK); GenitoUrinary Development Molecular Anatomy Project (GUDMAP):
'High resolution mapping of lower urinary tract innervation during development'

Research Group

Keast-Osborne Laboratory: Neural and Bioelectronic Control of Pelvic Organs

Faculty Research Themes

Child Health

School Research Themes

Molecular Mechanisms of Disease

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact the research group leader.

Department / Centre

Anatomy and Physiology

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