The physiological activities of the mammalian heart are regulated by the autonomic nervous system. An imbalanced autonomic nervous system with increased sympathetic tone and reduced vagal tone has been implicated in cardiovascular diseases. Experimental and clinical reports have demonstrated that vagal nerve activation is able to improve outcomes for multiple cardiovascular diseases, such as ischaemic heart disease, heart failure, arrhythmia and hypertension. In this paper, we mainly focus on the potential cardioprotective mechanisms of vagal nerve activation. Based on the knowledge gained from our experiments and other published reports, vagal activation results in cardioprotection is not only associated with heart rate, anti-adrenergic effect but also related to anti-inflammatory activity, regulation of cellular redox states and regulation of mitochondrial targets. In conclusion, vagal nerve activation may be a promising new therapeutic approach for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.
© 2011 The Authors. Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.