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Treating the urge to cough

October 26, 2020 News

Persistent coughs are a tricky symptom to cure, but what triggers the ‘urge to cough’?

This question formed the basis of Dr Tara Bautista’s Research Training Fellowship (now known as the Junior Fellowship) Investigating strategies towards reducing urge-to-cough in humans, the outcomes of which are being published this year. Tara is a science communicator with a background in neurophysiology. Her Fellowship looked at how the brain processes coughing and swallowing, two vital reflexes that protect the larynx (voicebox) from accidental damage.

The outcomes of Tara’s research show that the brain – once thought to process the cough reflex in a single area – deals with different cough-related sensory information in distinct areas. Different coughs, different brain processes.

Two papers have been published which show these findings. One, published in the journal Chest, details the exploration of a key intersection of noxious sensory processing pathways. Using MRI, it was noted that this intersection controlled both cough and pain. “By providing evidence for shared brain circuitry,” Tara notes “this identifies novel ways in which laryngeal sensations can be modified.”

The second paper, published in the Journal of Physiology, describes two distinct brain processes involved in encoding sensations from the larynx and airways. “(This is) an important discovery, as it now paves the way for more targeted approaches to reduce troublesome cough without compromising airway protection” says Tara. Further manuscripts have been submitted for review.

The success of this research will no doubt prove a vital step in what is a common and difficult symptom for many people. “My continued successes were set in motion by the (Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams) Fellowship and for that I remain extremely grateful” says Tara. “(The Foundation’s) support of junior fellows, such as myself, has impact well beyond the years of financial support offered”. We’re delighted to see one of our esteemed Fellows having made such important research!

Congratulations to Tara for this excellent research, which opens up new possibilities for treating a persistent cough.

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