Transient contractions of urinary bladder smooth muscle are drivers of afferent nerve activity during filling

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Activation of afferent nerves during urinary bladder (UB) filling conveys the sensation of UB fullness to the central nervous system (CNS). Although this sensory outflow is presumed to reflect graded increases in pressure associated with filling, UBs also exhibit nonvoiding, transient contractions (TCs) that cause small, rapid increases in intravesical pressure. Here, using an ex vivo mouse bladder preparation, we explored the relative contributions of filling pressure and TC-induced pressure transients to sensory nerve stimulation. Continuous UB filling caused an increase in afferent nerve activity composed of a graded increase in baseline activity and activity associated with increases in intravesical pressure produced by TCs. For each ∼4-mmHg pressure increase, filling pressure increased baseline afferent activity by ∼60 action potentials per second. In contrast, a similar pressure elevation induced by a TC evoked an ∼10-fold greater increase in afferent activity. Filling pressure did not affect TC frequency but did increase the TC rate of rise, reflecting a change in the length-tension relationship of detrusor smooth muscle. The frequency of afferent bursts depended on the TC rate of rise and peaked before maximum pressure. Inhibition of small- and large-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ (SK and BK) channels increased TC amplitude and afferent nerve activity. After inhibiting detrusor muscle contractility, simulating the waveform of a TC by gently compressing the bladder evoked similar increases in afferent activity. Notably, afferent activity elicited by simulated TCs was augmented by SK channel inhibition. Our results show that afferent nerve activity evoked by TCs represents the majority of afferent outflow conveyed to the CNS during UB filling and suggest that the maximum TC rate of rise corresponds to an optimal length-tension relationship for efficient UB contraction. Furthermore, our findings implicate SK channels in controlling the gain of sensory outflow independent of UB contractility.

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