Cervical vagus nerve stimulation augments spontaneous discharge in second-and higher-order sensory neurons in the rat nucleus of the solitary tract

Eric Beaumont, Regenia P. Campbell, Michael C. Andresen, Stephanie Scofield, Krishna Singh, Imad Libbus, Bruce H. Kenknight, Logan Snyder, Nathan Cantrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) currently treats patients with drug-resistant epilepsy, depression, and heart failure. The mild intensities used in chronic VNS suggest that primary visceral afferents and central nervous system activation are involved. Here, we measured the activity of neurons in the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) in anesthetized rats using clinically styled VNS. Our chief findings indicate that VNS at threshold bradycardic intensity activated NTS neuron discharge in one-third of NTS neurons. This VNS directly activated only myelinated vagal afferents projecting to second-order NTS neurons. Most VNS-induced activity in NTS, however, was unsynchronized to vagal stimuli. Thus, VNS activated unsynchronized activity in NTS neurons that were second order to vagal afferent C-fibers as well as higher-order NTS neurons only polysynaptically activated by the vagus. Overall, cardiovascular-sensitive and -insen-sitive NTS neurons were similarly activated by VNS: 3/4 neurons with monosynaptic vagal A-fiber afferents, 6/42 neurons with monosynaptic vagal C-fiber afferents, and 16/21 polysynaptic NTS neurons. Provocatively, vagal A-fibers indirectly activated C-fiber neurons during VNS. Elevated spontaneous spiking was quantitatively much higher than synchronized activity and extended well into the periods of nonstimulation. Surprisingly, many polysynaptic NTS neurons responded to half the bradycardic intensity used in clinical studies, indicating that a subset of myelinated vagal afferents is sufficient to evoke VNS indirect activation. Our study uncovered a myelinated vagal afferent drive that indirectly activates NTS neurons and thus central pathways beyond NTS and support reconsideration of brain contributions of vagal afferents underpinning of therapeutic impacts. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Acute vagus nerve stimulation elevated activity in neurons located in the medial nucleus of the solitary tract. Such stimuli directly activated only myelinated vagal afferents but indirectly activated a subpopulation of second- and higher-order neurons, suggesting that afferent mechanisms and central neuron activation may be responsible for vagus nerve stimulation efficacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H354-H367
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 11 2017


  • Baroreceptors
  • Blood pressure
  • Echocardiography
  • Nucleus of the solitary tract
  • Rats
  • Vagal primary afferents
  • Vagus nerve stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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