Optogenetic Manipulation of the Vagus Nerve

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2021:1293:459-470. doi: 10.1007/978-981-15-8763-4_30.


The vagus nerve plays a pivotal role in communication between the brain and peripheral organs involved in the sensory detection and the autonomic control of visceral activity. While the lack of appropriate experimental techniques to manipulate the physiological activity of the vagus nerve has been a long-standing problem, recent advancements in optogenetic tools, including viral vectors and photostimulation devices, during the late 2010s have begun to overcome this technical hurdle. Furthermore, identifying promoters for expressing transgenes in a cell-type-specific subpopulation of vagal neurons enables the selective photoactivation of afferent/efferent vagal neurons and specific visceral organ-innervating vagal neurons. In this chapter, we describe recent optogenetic approaches to study vagus nerve physiology and describe how these approaches have provided novel findings on the roles of vagus nerve signals in the cardiac, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. Compared with studies of the central nervous system, there are still few insights into vagus nerve physiology. Further studies with optogenetic tools will be useful for understanding the fundamental characteristics of vagus nerve signals transferred throughout the body.

Keywords: Cardiac system; Digestive system; Gut–brain axis; Interoception; Optogenetics; Respiratory system; Vagus nerve; Virus.

MeSH terms

  • Neurons
  • Neurons, Afferent
  • Neurons, Efferent
  • Optogenetics*
  • Vagus Nerve*