Body-brain communication: From visceral sensations to perception
How do we sense our internal organs? Can abnormal bodily feelings trigger behavioral disorders? We attempt to address such questions by studying how the brain monitors and perceives the body that is attached to it. We make use of contemporary neurobiological tools to unveil large-scale networks linking visceral organs to specific neurons in the central nervous system. We have been concentrating on gut-brain sensory pathways, emphasizing the major role played by the vagus nerve in communicating nutritional signals to brain reward neurons. We are now studying how the gut may elicit sickness-like perceptions such as bloating and nausea, and how exactly the gut-brain axis discriminates between pleasure and aversion. Future studies may take us to analyze other internal organs.
Our long-term objective is that our basic studies may generate novel peripheral targets for stimulation therapies. We are particularly interested in advancing novel stimulation targets for disorders associated with altered bodily sensations, including inflammation-induced sickness, fatigue, and depression.
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