Urine Trouble: Alterations in Brain Function Associated with Bladder Pain

J Urol. 2016 Jul;196(1):24-32. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2015.10.198. Epub 2016 Feb 22.


Purpose: Chronic bladder pain is a debilitating condition often accompanied by alterations in affective and autonomic function. Many symptoms associated with chronic bladder pain are mediated by the central nervous system. In this review data from preclinical animal models and human neuroimaging studies were analyzed and a theoretical supraspinal bladder pain network was generated.

Materials and methods: We comprehensively reviewed the literature using PubMed® and Google Scholar™. Relevant reviews and original research articles, and the cited references were summarized and then organized on a neuroanatomical basis.

Results: The brain loci the most predominant in the bladder pain literature are the thalamus, parabrachial nucleus, cerebral cortex, amygdala, hypothalamus, periaqueductal gray and rostral ventromedial medulla. This review highlights each of these regions, discussing the molecular and physiological changes that occur in each in the context of bladder pain.

Conclusions: A complex network of brain loci is involved in bladder pain modulation. Studying these brain regions and the changes that they undergo during the transition from acute to chronic bladder pain will provide novel therapeutic strategies for patients with chronic bladder pain diseases such as interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome and chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome.

Keywords: brain; central nervous system; neuroimaging; pain; urinary bladder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging
  • Pain Perception / physiology*
  • Pelvic Pain / physiopathology*
  • Urinary Bladder Diseases / physiopathology*