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Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1990 Feb;68(2):325-45.

The abdominal visceral innervation and the emetic reflex: pathways, pharmacology, and plasticity.

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Department of Physiology, St. George's Hospital Medical School, London, UK.


In recent years the role of the area postrema in the emetic reflex has been predominant and the involvement of the abdominal visceral innervation has tended to be overlooked. This paper attempts to redress the balance reflex by reviewing aspects of the existing literature and complementing this with original studies from the ferret. In view of the widespread use of the ferret in studies of emesis and particularly in the characterization of the antiemetic actions of 5-HT3 receptor antagonist, the opportunity is taken to assess the suitability of this species for studies of emesis. It is concluded that the ferret is sensitive to a wide range of emetic stimuli including intragastric irritants, opiate and dopamine receptor agonists, many cytotoxic drugs, and radiation. For several stimuli it is more sensitive than other species and for radiation on the basis of its ED100 it appears to be the most sensitive of the laboratory animals studied. Using electrical stimulation of the central end of the dorsal vagal trunk in the abdomen in conscious and anaesthetized animals, the vagal afferents were shown to be capable of eliciting emesis. Using lesioning studies an involvement of the vagus in the emetic response to a number of cytotoxic drugs (e.g., cisplatinum, cyclophosphamide, mustine) and radiation was demonstrated, although the magnitude of the effect varied with the different stimuli. An attempt is made to reconcile these observations with previous studies of area postrema ablation. The problems of interpreting the effects of nerve lesions are critically discussed in light of preliminary evidence presented here that there may be a degree of plasticity in the emetic pathway following such lesions. The range of antiemetic effects of 5-HT3 receptor antagonists is reviewed and an attempt is made to identify the site(s) at which these agents act. Results are presented that suggest a link between the vagus and 5-HT3 receptor antagonism. These studies are discussed together with others and lead us to propose that (in the ferret) 5-HT3 receptor antagonists have their main antiemetic effect by acting on vagal afferent terminals in the wall of the upper gut with an additional minor site either in the nucleus tractus solitarius or presynaptically on the vagal afferent terminals in the medulla where binding sites for 5-HT3 receptor ligands have recently been demonstrated in this species.

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