Improving recovery of injured visceral nerves and their spinal control centres
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Visceral sensory and motor (autonomic) nerves that control urogenital function are often damaged by common surgeries such as prostatectomy, hysterectomy, bowel resection and other procedures performed on related organs. As this damage is a cause of long-term or permanent visceral and sexual dysfunction, we are studying how to promote functional recovery by stimulating and directing growth of the injured neurons. To do this, we have established robust microsurgical models that can be used to study relevant types of neuronal injury. These are being utilized for in vitro studies of neurotrophic and steroid signalling pathways in isolated adult autonomic and sensory neurons maintained in culture; anatomical tracing and confocal microscopy studies to analyse the recovery of connections after injury; and in vivo studies to stimulate nerve growth using various physiological and pharmacological strategies. In collaboration with the Bionics Institute, we are also developing neural implants for chronic implantation to modify neural behaviour in vivo.
Figure 1: Cryosection of sacral spinal cord showing the long column of preganglionic neurons that send axons out to the pelvic ganglia to then control pelvic organs. These spinal neurons have long dendrites that project almost as far as the central canal and are the site of many nociceptive and autonomic interactions. Here, the preganglionic neurons are immunolabelled for choline acetyltransferase (green) and many also express nitric oxide synthase (red).
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