The unexplored relationship between urinary tract infections and the autonomic nervous system

Auton Neurosci. 2016 Oct:200:29-34. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2015.06.002. Epub 2015 Jun 6.


Urinary tract infections (UTIs), the majority of which are caused by uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC), are extremely common infections that preferentially effect women. Additional complicating factors, such as catheterization, diabetes, and spinal cord injuries can increase the frequency and severity of UTIs. The rise of antimicrobial resistant uropathogens and the ability of this disease to chronically recur make the development of alternative preventative and therapeutic modalities a priority. The major symptoms of UTIs, urgency, frequency, and dysuria, are readouts of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the majority of the factors that lead to complicated UTIs have been shown to impact ANS function. This review summarizes the decades' long efforts to understand the molecular mechanisms of the interactions between UPEC and the host, with a particular focus on the recent findings revealing the molecular, bacteriological, immunological and epidemiological complexity of pathogenesis. Additionally, we describe the progress that has been made in: i) generating vaccines and anti-virulence compounds that prevent and/or treat UTI by blocking bacterial adherence to urinary tract tissue and; and ii) elucidating the mechanism by which anti-inflammatories are able to alleviate symptoms and improve disease prognosis. Finally, the potential relationships between the ANS and UTI are considered throughout. While these relationships have not been experimentally explored, the known interactions between numerous UTI characteristics (symptoms, complicating factors, and inflammation) and ANS function suggest that UTIs are directly impacting ANS stimulation and that ANS (dys)function may alter UTI prognosis.

Keywords: Autonomic nervous system; Complicated UTI; Therapeutics; Urinary tract infection; Uropathogenic E. coli.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Autonomic Nervous System / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / drug therapy
  • Inflammation / etiology*
  • Urinary Tract / microbiology
  • Urinary Tract Infections / complications*
  • Urinary Tract Infections / drug therapy*
  • Uropathogenic Escherichia coli / drug effects
  • Uropathogenic Escherichia coli / isolation & purification*


  • Anti-Infective Agents