Vagus Nerve Regulates the Phagocytic and Secretory Activity of Resident Macrophages in the Liver

Brain Behav Immun. 2019 Oct;81:444-454. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2019.06.041. Epub 2019 Jul 2.


The gastrointestinal (GI) tract harbors commensal microorganisms as well as invasive bacteria, toxins and other pathogens and, therefore, plays a pivotal barrier and immunological role against pathogenic agents. The vagus nerve is an important regulator of the GI tract-associated immune system, having profound effects on inflammatory responses. Among GI tract organs, the liver is a key site of immune surveillance, as it has a large population of resident macrophages and receives the blood drained from the guts through the hepatic portal circulation. Although it is widely accepted that the hepatic tissue is a major target for vagus nerve fibers, the role of this neural circuit in liver immune functions is still poorly understood. Herein we used in vivo imaging techniques, including confocal microscopy and scintigraphy, to show that vagus nerve stimulation increases the phagocytosis activity by resident macrophages in the liver, even on the absence of an immune challenge. The activation of this neural circuit in a non-lethal model of sepsis optimized the removal of bacteria in the liver and resulted in the production of anti-inflammatory and pro-regenerative cytokines. Our findings provide new insights into the neural regulation of the immune system in the liver.

Keywords: Cholinergic signaling; Kupffer cells; Liver; Phagocytosis; Vagus nerve.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't