Neural mechanisms of emesis

Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1990 Feb;68(2):230-6. doi: 10.1139/y90-036.


Emesis is a reflex, developed to different degrees in different species, that allows an animal to rid itself of ingested toxins or poisons. The reflex can be elicited either by direct neuronal connections from visceral afferent fibers, especially those from the gastrointestinal tract, or from humoral factors. Emesis from humoral factors depends on the integrity of the area postrema; neurons in the area postrema have excitatory receptors for emetic agents. Emesis from gastrointestinal afferents does not depend on the area postrema, but probably the reflex is triggered by projections to some part of the nucleus tractus solitarius. As with a variety of other complex motor functions regulated by the brain stem, it is likely that the sequence of muscle excitation and inhibition is controlled by a central pattern generator located in the nucleus tractus solitarius, and that information from humoral factors via the area postrema and visceral afferents via the vagus nerve converge at this point. This central pattern generator, like those for motor functions such as swallowing, presumably projects to the various motor nuclei, perhaps through interneuronal pathways, to elicit the sequential excitation and inhibition that controls the reflex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Reflex / physiology
  • Vomiting / physiopathology*