Neurogastroenterology & Motility
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Neurogastroenterology and Motility Center combines clinical expertise in evaluation and management of disorders of gut-brain interaction (DGBI) with innovative research on mechanisms of visceral pain, psychosocial determinants of GI symptom severity, and the neural basis for cerebral cortical influences on GI tract function.
The Center’s clinical and research activities reflect the evolving concept that DGBI are not due solely to motility disturbances but rather are associated with altered brain-gut interactions, visceral hypersensitivity and, in some cases, disturbances of GI function mediated by mucosal immunological events. The spectrum of DGBI ranges from those associated with characteristic motility patterns, such as achalasia, gastroparesis, and intestinal pseudo-obstruction, to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, functional dyspepsia, and cyclic vomiting syndrome, which are better characterized using a biopsychosocial framework. Some of the primary research themes of the Center include:
- Basic science research on the neural basis for cognitive influences on GI tract function, as well as GI motility disturbances and treatment options for multiple sclerosis patients (Dr. David J. Levinthal).
- Additional basic science research on DGBI to determine the intrinsic relationship between target-tissue production of neurotrophic factors and sensory neuron function (Dr. Kathryn Albers) and research studies on the role of growth factors in the development and adult plasticity of the central and peripheral nervous systems (Dr. Brian Davis).
- Research on the psychosocial determinants of GI symptom severity using Brain Manager, a digital behavioral tool for patients with motility disorders who report symptoms of depression (Dr. Eva Szigethy).
- A partnership with Carnegie Mellon University focused on new multimodal fusion algorithms to identify biomarkers in speech and behavior that are evident during conversation (Drs. Levinthal and Szigethy). Discovery of such objective, non-invasive biomarkers will improve the accuracy and efficiency with which mental health disorders are diagnosed and monitored.
Dr. Abo's Research
Dr. Abo’s research interests include clinical research studies pertaining to the pathogenesis and treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. He also directs the Division’s Center for Women’s GI Health.
Dr. Albers' Research
The research interests of the Albers Lab are focused on tissue-derived neurotrophic growth factors that regulate sensory neuron development, their functional properties, and changes in excitability that occur following nerve injury and disease. Dr. Albers has an additional project examining the function of the transcription factor Sox11, which plays a critical role in embryonic neuron specification, growth and survival, and adult peripheral nerve regeneration.
Dr. Davis' Research
Dr. Davis’s research focuses on the role of growth factor interaction with sensory fibers that may be responsible for regulating neurogenic inflammation in pancreatic disease. He also investigates the role of the peripheral nervous system in pancreatic cancer pain and metastasis.
Dr. Kingsley's Research
Dr. Kingsley is interested in GI motility clinical trials and translational functional bowel studies.
Dr. Levinthal's Research
Dr. Levinthal’s lab uses both neuroanatomical tracing and neurophysiological techniques to explore the neural basis for central nervous system influences over autonomic regulation in both health and disease. His research focuses on the neural mechanisms by which the cerebral cortex influences GI tract function. Initial studies have uncovered the surprising finding that a visceromotor map of sympathetic function is embedded within the classic cortical somatotopic map of motor function. Further work is aimed at understanding the cortical regions that influence vagal function. The goal of this effort is to use the visceral maps to guide brain stimulation as a means to influence GI tract function. This line of work will lead to the development of brain-based therapies for those with forms of severe GI dysfunction refractory to standard treatments.
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Dr. Pezzone's Research
Dr. Pezzone is an expert in neuro-immune interactions in the gut and the lower urinary tract as they relate to chronic pain, afferent nerve sensitization, and cross-sensitization of pelvic organs which can lead to chronic pelvic pain.
Additional research interests include: Macrophage phenotype modulation in tissue regeneration and down regulation of inflammation, the role of glial cells and the peripheral nervous system in the development of malignancy in chronic inflammatory states, modulation of mast cells and their role in visceral pain, neuromodulation of pain, development of pain biomarkers, and visceral afferents in the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts and their role in visceral hyperalgesia.
Dr. Tansel's Research
Dr. Tansel conducts clinical and translational research related to diseases of gut-brain health.