Plasticity of vagal brainstem circuits in the control of gastrointestinal function

Kirsteen N. Browning, R. Alberto Travagli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


The afferent vagus transmits sensory information from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and other viscera to the brainstem via a glutamatergic synapse at the level of the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS). Second order NTS neurons integrate this sensory information with inputs from other CNS regions that regulate autonomic functions and homeostasis. Glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons are responsible for conveying the integrated response to other nuclei, including the adjacent dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMV). The preganglionic neurons in the DMV are the source of the parasympathetic motor response back to the GI tract. The glutamatergic synapse between the NTS and DMV is unlikely to be tonically active in regulating gastric motility and tone although almost all neurotransmitters tested so far modulate transmission at this synapse. In contrast, the tonic inhibitory GABAergic input from the NTS to the DMV appears to be critical in setting the tone of gastric motility and, under basal conditions, is unaffected by many neurotransmitters or neurohormones.This review is based, in part, on a presentation by Dr Browning at the 2009 ISAN meeting in Sydney, Australia and discusses how neurohormones and macronutrients modulate glutamatergic transmission to NTS neurons and GABAergic transmission to DMV neurons in relation to sensory information that is received from the GI tract. These neurohormones and macronutrients appear to exert efficient "on-demand" control of the motor output from the DMV in response to ever-changing demands required to maintain homeostasis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6-13
Number of pages8
JournalAutonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Apr 26 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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