Stimulation of the vagus nerve produces antiepileptic effects. This is used clinically to treat drug-refractory epilepsies. The mechanisms responsible for these effects depend on the activation of vagal afferents reaching the nucleus of the solitary tract. This review focuses on the neuroanatomy of the nucleus of the solitary tract and its relation with the nucleus locus coeruleus as a preferential anatomical substrate in producing antiepileptic effects. In fact, following the transient or permanent inactivation of locus coeruleus neurons, some antiepileptic effects of vagus nerve stimulation are lost. The activation of locus coeruleus per se is known to limit the spread of a seizure and the duration of a variety of seizure types. This is due to the fine chemical neuroanatomy of norepinephrine pathways that arise from the locus coeruleus, which produce widespread changes in cortical areas. These changes may be sustained by norepinephrine alone, or in combination with its co-transmitters. In addition, vagus nerve stimulation may prevent seizures by activating the serotonin-containing dorsal raphe neurons.
© 2011 The Authors. European Journal of Neuroscience © 2011 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.