Neural control of micturition in humans: a working model

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| Results from functional brain scanning have shown that neural control of the bladder involves many different regions. Yet, many aspects of this complex system can be simplified to a working model in which a few forebrain circuits, acting mainly on the midbrain periaqueductal grey (PAG), advance or delay the triggering of the voiding reflex and generate bladder sensations according to the volume of urine in the bladder, the safety of voiding and the emotional and social propriety of doing so. Understanding these circuits seems to offer a route to treatment of conditions, such as urgency incontinence or overactive bladder, in patients without overt neurological disease. Two of these circuits include, respectively, the medial prefrontal cortex and the parahippocampal complex, as well as the PAG. These circuits belong to a well-known network that is active at rest and deactivated when attention is required. Another circuit, comprising the insula and the midcingulate or dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, is activated by bladder filling and belongs to a salience network that generates sensations such as the desire to void. Behavioural treatments of urgency incontinence lead to changes in brain function that support the working model and suggest the mechanism of this type of treatment.

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