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Brain. 1997 Jan;120 ( Pt 1):111-21.

A PET study on brain control of micturition in humans.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Embryology, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Groningen, The Netherlands.


Although the brain plays a crucial role in the control of micturition, little is known about the structures involved. Identification of these areas is important, because their dysfunction is though to cause urge incontinence, a major problem in the elderly. In the cat, three areas in the brainstem and diencephalon are specifically implicated in the control of micturition: the dorsomedial pontine tegmentum, the periaqueductal grey, and the preoptic area of the hypothalamus. PET scans were used to test whether these areas are also involved in human micturition. Seventeen right-handed male volunteers were scanned during the following four conditions: (i) 15 min prior to micturition during urine withholding: (ii) during micturition; (iii) 15 min after micturition; (iv) 30 min after micturition. Ten of the 17 volunteers were able to micturate during scanning. micuturition was associated with increased blood flow in the right dorsomedial pontine tegmentum, the periaqueductal grey, the hypothalamus and the right inferior frontal gyrus. Decreased blood flow was found in the right anterior cingulate gyrus when urine was withheld. The other seven volunteers were not able to micturate during scanning, although they had a full bladder and tried vigorously to do so. In this group, during these unsuccessful attempts to micturate, increased blood flow was found in the right ventral pontine tegmentum, which corresponds with the hypothesis, formulated from results in cats, that this area controls the motor neurons of the pelvic floor. Increased blood flow was also found in the right inferior frontal gyrus during unsuccessful attempts at micturition, and decreased blood flow in the right anterior cingulate gyrus was found during the withholding of urine. The results suggest that, as that of the cat, the human brainstem contains specific nuclei responsible for the control of micturition, and that the cortical and pontine micturition sites are predominantly on the right side.

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