Neural inputs from internal organs are essential for normal autonomic function. The vagus nerve is a key body-brain connection that monitors the digestive, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems. Within the gastrointestinal tract, vagal sensory neurons detect gut hormones and organ distension. Here, we investigate the molecular diversity of vagal sensory neurons and their roles in sensing gastrointestinal inputs. Genetic approaches allowed targeted investigation of gut-to-brain afferents involved in homeostatic responses to ingested nutrients (GPR65 neurons) and mechanical distension of the stomach and intestine (GLP1R neurons). Optogenetics, in vivo ganglion imaging, and genetically guided anatomical mapping provide direct links between neuron identity, peripheral anatomy, central anatomy, conduction velocity, response properties in vitro and in vivo, and physiological function. These studies clarify the roles of vagal afferents in mediating particular gut hormone responses. Moreover, genetic control over gut-to-brain neurons provides a molecular framework for understanding neural control of gastrointestinal physiology.
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