Simultaneous labeling of vagal innervation of the gut and afferent projections from the visceral forebrain with dil injected into the dorsal vagal complex in the rat

J Comp Neurol. 1990 Nov 1;301(1):65-79. doi: 10.1002/cne.903010107.


The vagal innervation of the different layers of the rat gastrointestinal wall was identified with the fluorescent carbocyanine dye Dil, injected into the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (dmnX). Multiple, bilateral injections were used to label all dmnX preganglionic motoneurons, and as a consequence, most of the vagal primary afferents that terminate in the adjacent nucleus of the solitary tract (nts) were also retrogradely and transganglionically labeled. With Fluorogold used to label the enteric nervous system completely and specifically, the Dil-labeled vagal profiles could be visualized and quantified in their anatomical relation to the neurons of the myenteric and submucous ganglia. In the myenteric plexus, vagal fibers and terminals were found throughout the gastrointestinal tract as far caudal as the descending colon, but there was a general decreasing proximodistal gradient in the density of vagal innervation. All parts of the gastric myenteric plexus (fundus, corpus, antrum), as well as the proximal duodenum, were extremely densely innervated, with vagal fibers and terminals in virtually every ganglion and connective. Further caudally, both the percentage of innervated myenteric ganglia and the average density of label within the ganglia rapidly decreased, with the exception of the cecum and proximal colon, where up to 65% of the ganglia were innervated. In the gastric and duodenal submucosa very few and in the mucosa no vagal fibers and terminals were found. With both normal epifluorescence and laser scanning confocal microscopy, highly varicose or beaded terminal structures of various size and geometry could be identified. The Dil injections, which impregnated the dmnX as well as the adjacent nts, resulted in retrograde and anterograde labeling of all the previously reported forebrain connections with the dorsal vagal complex. We conclude that the myenteric plexus is the primary target of vagal innervation throughout the gastrointestinal tract, and that its innervation is more complete than previously assumed. In contrast, vagal afferent (and efferent) innervation of mucosa and submucosa seems conspicuously sparse or absent. Furthermore, the use of more focal injections of Dil offers the prospect to simultaneously identify specific subsets of vagal preganglionics and their central nervous inputs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Carbocyanines*
  • Digestive System / cytology
  • Digestive System / innervation*
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Motor Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Nerve Endings / ultrastructure
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / ultrastructure
  • Neurons, Efferent / ultrastructure
  • Nodose Ganglion / cytology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Stereotaxic Techniques
  • Stilbamidines*
  • Vagus Nerve / cytology*
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology


  • 2-hydroxy-4,4'-diamidinostilbene, methanesulfonate salt
  • Carbocyanines
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Stilbamidines
  • 3,3'-dioctadecylindocarbocyanine