Internal senses of the vagus nerve

Neuron. 2022 Feb 16;110(4):579-599. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2021.12.020. Epub 2022 Jan 19.


The vagus nerve is an indispensable body-brain connection that controls vital aspects of autonomic physiology like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and gut motility, reflexes like coughing and swallowing, and survival behaviors like feeding, drinking, and sickness responses. Classical physiological studies and recent molecular/genetic approaches have revealed a tremendous diversity of vagal sensory neuron types that innervate different internal organs, with many cell types remaining poorly understood. Here, we review the state of knowledge related to vagal sensory neurons that innervate the respiratory, cardiovascular, and digestive systems. We focus on cell types and their response properties, physiological/behavioral roles, engaged neural circuits and, when possible, sensory receptors. We are only beginning to understand the signal transduction mechanisms used by vagal sensory neurons and upstream sentinel cells, and future studies are needed to advance the field of interoception to the level of mechanistic understanding previously achieved for our external senses.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Interoception*
  • Reflex
  • Sensation
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology
  • Vagus Nerve* / physiology