The Neuroscience Behind Throwing Up

Hello! My name is Charlie Murphey, and I am currently a junior here at Pitt. I am pursuing a Neuroscience major with minors in Statistics and Chemistry as well as a certificate in the Conceptual Foundations of Medicine. I am incredibly excited to be conducting neurophysiological research this fall semester through Pitt’s School of Medicine under a fellowship from the Pitt Honors College. I will be working closely with Dr. Bill Yates and his team on a project working to identify and characterize the neural mechanisms behind emesis, as well as differentiate between the vestibular and gastrointestinal pathways in the brainstem that cause the vomiting response. 

Up until now, it has generally been assumed that vomiting due to some kind of stimulus in the digestive tract (think food poisoning or stomach bug) and vomiting due to certain shifts in balance (think rollercoaster or car sickness) elicited the same neural pathway in the brain to produce vomiting. However, Dr. Yates has conducted preliminary research that suggests that these two categories of stimuli actually activate different brainstem circuits to elicit the visibility similar physiological response of vomiting. Our lab’s goal this semester is to complete the first part of a multiyear study on this topic. This part will entail identifying brainstem areas involved in producing the emetic response based on the stimuli provoking them. I will be assisting with and conducting my own in vivo physiological recordings as well as completing immunohistochemistry procedures and data analysis. I will further outline these aspects and give updates on my results in future posts.

I am extraordinarily excited to be working with Dr. Yates on this project, as he is one of the world’s leaders in research on the vestibular system. I actually aspire to one day be a prominent physiologist like him. I specifically hope to enroll in an MD/PhD program after graduation with the ultimate goal of becoming a medical scientist. I feel that this is the best track for me to put together my passions for research and medicine into a meaningful career full of contributions to science. This fellowship will surely help me gain some skills and experience in the ultimate pursuit of this goal.

I would like to thank Dr. Yates, Pitt’s School of Medicine, and the Pitt Honors College for giving me this wonderful opportunity. I look forward to sharing updates on my progress here on this blog!

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