Neural control of the urethra.
Coordination between the urinary bladder and the urethra is mediated by multiple reflex pathways organized in the brain and spinal cord. Some reflexes promote urine storage; whereas other reflexes facilitate voiding. During bladder filling, activation of mechanoreceptor afferent nerves in the bladder wall triggers firing in the cholinergic efferent pathways to the external urethral sphincter (EUS) and in sympathetic adrenergic pathways to the urethral smooth muscle. These storage reflexes are dependent upon interneuronal circuitry in the spinal cord. During voiding the spinal storage reflexes are inhibited by supraspinal mechanisms which originate in the pontine micturition center. Glutamatergic, serotonergic and alpha, adrenergic excitatory transmission as well as GABAergic/glycinergic inhibitory transmission have been implicated in the central control of sphincter reflexes. During voiding, a parasympathetic nitrergic inhibitory input to the urethral smooth is activated. This reflex mechanism which is triggered by bladder afferents persists in paraplegic rats and therefore must be mediated at least in part by spinal interneuronal circuitry. In female rats, the parasympathetic nitrergic pathway is prominent; but in male rats it is obscured by a dominant parasympathetic cholinergic excitatory input to the urethral smooth muscle. The function of the cholinergic pathway in voiding is uncertain. Stimulation of urethral afferents can also influence bladder activity. Contraction of the external urethral sphincter activates afferents that inhibit reflex bladder contractions; whereas infusion of fluid through the urethra facilitates bladder contractions. These reflexes are also organized in the spinal cord and presumably play a role in urine storage and elimination. Alterations in primitive bladder-to-urethra and urethra-to-bladder reflex mechanisms may contribute to neurogenic bladder dysfunction.
de Groat, WC; Fraser, MO; Yoshiyama, M; Smerin, S; Tai, C; Chancellor, MB; Yoshimura, N; Roppolo, JR
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