The protective effect of the vagus nerve in a murine model of chronic relapsing colitis

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2007 Oct;293(4):G711-8. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00240.2007. Epub 2007 Aug 2.


The vagus nerve inhibits the response to systemic administration of endotoxin, and we have recently extended this observation to show that the vagus attenuates acute experimental colitis in mice. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether there is a tonic counterinflammatory influence of the vagus on colitis maintained over several weeks. We assessed disease activity index, macroscopic and histological damage, myeloperoxidase (MPO) activity, and Th1 and Th2 cytokine profiles in chronic colitis induced by administration of dextran sodium sulfate (DSS) in drinking water for three cycles during 5 days with 11 days of rest between each cycle (DSS 3, 2, 2%) in healthy and vagotomized C57BL/6 mice and in mice deficient in macrophage-colony stimulating factor (M-CSF). A pyloroplasty was performed in vagotomized mice. Vagotomy accelerated the onset and the severity of inflammation during the first and second but not the third cycle. Although macroscopic scores were not significantly changed, histological scores as well as MPO activity and colonic tissue levels of IL-1alpha, TNF-alpha, IFN-gamma, and IL-18 but not IL-4 were significantly increased in vagotomized mice compared with sham-operated mice that received DSS. In control mice (without colitis), vagotomy per se did not affect any inflammatory marker. Vagotomy had no effect on the colitis in M-CSF-derived macrophage-deficient mice. These results indicate that the vagus protects against acute relapses on a background of chronic inflammation. Identification of the molecular mechanisms underlying the protective role of parasympathetic nerves opens a new therapeutic avenue for the treatment of acute relapses of chronic inflammatory bowel disease.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colitis / chemically induced
  • Colitis / pathology
  • Colitis / physiopathology*
  • Colon / metabolism
  • Dextran Sulfate
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Interleukin-18 / metabolism
  • Interleukin-1beta / metabolism
  • Interleukin-4 / metabolism
  • Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / deficiency
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Sincalide / pharmacology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism
  • Vagotomy
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology*


  • Interleukin-18
  • Interleukin-1beta
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Interleukin-4
  • Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Dextran Sulfate
  • Sincalide