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Baillieres Clin Gastroenterol. 1988 Jan;2(1):141-68.

The neurophysiology of vomiting.


Nausea and vomiting can be induced by a wide variety of stimuli such as pregnancy, space travel, raised intracranial pressure, radiation and cytotoxic drugs. The mechanisms by which all these diverse stimuli culminate in a final common act is unknown. From studies in the 1950s a model of the emetic reflex emerged consisting of a chemoreceptor trigger zone in the area postrema and a vomiting centre in the brain stem. This concept has been reviewed and revised in the light of recent studies. Many discussions of emesis involve detailed descriptions of the gastrointestinal events associated with the act of vomiting only-nausea and retching receiving little attention. Here we have tried to give a broader view by considering the neurophysiology of such events and have included nausea and retching, phenomena that are usually inseparable from vomiting. The possible biological function of these events is also discussed. The involvement of visceral systems (such as the heart, airways and gut) is included, and particular attention is paid to vagal mechanisms underlying the changes in gut motor activity. Emesis has long been thought to be organized by a 'vomiting centre'; the possibility that this vomiting centre could be the parvocellular reticular formation is reviewed, as is the concept that the 'centre' is larger than an anatomically defined single group of cells. The mechanism of action of two clinically relevant emetic stimuli--radiation and cytotoxic drugs-is considered in detail. Recent studies of the antiemetic properties of novel 5-HT-3 receptor antagonists against radiation and cytotoxic drug-induced vomiting are discussed; these studies suggest that important advances will be made in the treatment of emesis induced by these and other related agents.

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