Until recently it was assumed that the responses of brain areas devoted to the control of environmental reflexes (such as food ingestion and digestion) were pre-determined, resulting in stereotyped and predictable outcomes. That is to say, autonomic reflexes were composed of simple nerve cells acting as relay stations with no 'personality'. This project challenges this existing dogma and proposes that autonomic reflex circuits are highly integrated, with pathways defined uniquely at multiple specific levels and organized into specific functional lines. This type of cellular organization also implies that separate subsets of brainstem neurons display 'task matching' capabilities and integrate vital cardiac, gastrointestinal and respiratory functions. The requirements of each system vary greatly in response type, timing and duration. The long-term goal of the present project is to investigate the organization of these reflex circuits with the intention of uncovering distinctions in the neural control of visceral functions and the role these variations play in allowing different responses to ever-changing environmental conditions. The recent data from this team of researchers show that fundamental differences exist even with the relatively restricted group of neurons controlling the stomach or the pancreas. The present project will combine state of the art anatomical, molecular and electrophysiological techniques to provide evidence of specificity in communication between the brain and the pancreas. This combination of experimental approaches will allow the unveiling of a coherent broader picture discriminating reflex circuits involved in specific metabolic and homeostatic functions. By providing training in this unique combination of techniques, the researcher leading this project will continue to foster the career of junior faculty, postdoctoral fellows and students within, as well as outside, the laboratory.
|Effective start/end date
|9/1/08 → 9/30/10
- National Science Foundation: $300,001.00