After ingestion of toxin-contaminated food, the brain initiates a series of defensive responses (e.g., nausea, retching, and vomiting). How the brain detects ingested toxin and coordinates diverse defensive responses remains poorly understood. Here, we developed a mouse-based paradigm to study defensive responses induced by bacterial toxins. Using this paradigm, we identified a set of molecularly defined gut-to-brain and brain circuits that jointly mediate toxin-induced defensive responses. The gut-to-brain circuit consists of a subset of Htr3a+ vagal sensory neurons that transmit toxin-related signals from intestinal enterochromaffin cells to Tac1+ neurons in the dorsal vagal complex (DVC). Tac1+ DVC neurons drive retching-like behavior and conditioned flavor avoidance via divergent projections to the rostral ventral respiratory group and lateral parabrachial nucleus, respectively. Manipulating these circuits also interferes with defensive responses induced by the chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin. These results suggest that food poisoning and chemotherapy recruit similar circuit modules to initiate defensive responses.
Keywords: Htr3a; Tac1; enterochromaffin cell; gut-to-brain axis; nausea; nucleus of the solitary tract; retching.
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