Optical vagus nerve modulation of heart and respiration via heart-injected retrograde AAV

Sci Rep. 2021 Feb 11;11(1):3664. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-83280-3.


Vagus nerve stimulation has shown many benefits for disease therapies but current approaches involve imprecise electrical stimulation that gives rise to off-target effects, while the functionally relevant pathways remain poorly understood. One method to overcome these limitations is the use of optogenetic techniques, which facilitate targeted neural communication with light-sensitive actuators (opsins) and can be targeted to organs of interest based on the location of viral delivery. Here, we tested whether retrograde adeno-associated virus (rAAV2-retro) injected in the heart can be used to selectively express opsins in vagus nerve fibers controlling cardiac function. Furthermore, we investigated whether perturbations in cardiac function could be achieved with photostimulation at the cervical vagus nerve. Viral injection in the heart resulted in robust, primarily afferent, opsin reporter expression in the vagus nerve, nodose ganglion, and brainstem. Photostimulation using both one-photon stimulation and two-photon holography with a GRIN-lens incorporated nerve cuff, was tested on the pilot-cohort of injected mice. Changes in heart rate, surface electrocardiogram, and respiratory responses were observed in response to both one- and two-photon photostimulation. The results demonstrate feasibility of retrograde labeling for organ targeted optical neuromodulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dependovirus / genetics*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Heart / physiopathology
  • Heart / virology*
  • Heart Rate / genetics
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / virology
  • Opsins / genetics*
  • Optogenetics / methods
  • Respiration / genetics
  • Vagus Nerve / metabolism*
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology
  • Vagus Nerve / virology
  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation / methods


  • Opsins