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Director, Neurogastroenterology & Motility Center,
Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine,
Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition
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. Dr. Levinthal's 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.
Descending neural commands from the cerebral cortex can have a profound influence on GI tract function in both health and disease. Uncovering the neural basis for such "top-down" influences on gut function is particularly relevant for understanding pathophysiological mechanisms that contribute to functional GI and motility disorders, including those that occur in the setting of diseases of the central nervous system. Our group is also interested in exploring the cognitive and emotional determinants of symptom severity in functional GI disorders, with an interest in developing new integrated models of care that exploit mind-body interventions. We also hope to translate our basic work on the central neural basis of GI regulation into novel, brain-based therapeutic strategies for those with forms of severe GI dysfunction found to be refractory to standard treatments.