Although the gastrointestinal tract contains intrinsic neural plexuses that allow a significant degree of independent control over gastrointestinal functions, the central nervous system provides extrinsic neural inputs that modulate, regulate, and integrate these functions. In particular, the vagus nerve provides the parasympathetic innervation to the gastrointestinal tract, coordinating the complex interactions between central and peripheral neural control mechanisms. This review discusses the physiological roles of the afferent (sensory) and motor (efferent) vagus in regulation of appetite, mood, and the immune system, as well as the pathophysiological outcomes of vagus nerve dysfunction resulting in obesity, mood disorders, and inflammation. The therapeutic potential of vagus nerve modulation to attenuate or reverse these pathophysiological outcomes and restore autonomic homeostasis is also discussed.
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