Development of autonomic and nociceptive circuits
Urogenital function is regulated by autonomic neurons in the pelvic ganglia (known as the inferior hypogastric plexus in people) and sensory neurons in lumbosacral dorsal root ganglia. In comparison to other parts of the autonomic nervous system, the pelvic ganglia are very unusual. For example, they are sexually dimorphic and continue to be very sensitive to actions of steroids in adults. Most unusually, they are mixed sympathetic-parasympathetic ganglia, leading to questions of how these ganglia develop and how their connections with two different regions of the spinal cord (lumbar and sacral) are initially determined. Very little is known about the molecular trophic and guidance cues in this part of the autonomic nervous system, but they are critical to understanding developmental abnormalities and may also point to mechanisms that can be activated in adults to repair axons after injury. Projects are available in this area to study these pelvic circuits in development, or postnatal and pubertal changes in their connectivity and function. Other projects are available to focus more on the sensory component of these circuits, to define the neurobiology and connectivity of developing sacral nociceptive neurons that are later involved in pelvic pain conditions.
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.
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