Neurons in the vagal complex of the rat respond to mechanical and chemical stimulation of the GI tract

Am J Physiol. 1998 Feb;274(2):G331-41. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.1998.274.2.G331.


Perfusing the duodenum with acid solutions dramatically reduces gastric motility and acid secretion. We propose that the presence of acid in the proximal small intestine initiates a vagovagal reflex that excites inhibitory neurons in the nucleus of the solitary tract (NST) and reduces the activity of the neurons in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve (DMNV). However, results from several investigations suggest that the relevant circuit may not be as simple as we had believed. The present study was designed to address this dilemma by employing intracellular and extracellular recording and intracellular labeling techniques to provide direct information on the activity of neurons in the NST and DMNV during and after intestinal exposure to acid solutions. The results obtained prove that NST and DMNV neurons respond to HCl in the duodenum. In some instances, these neurons were very stimulus specific, although the majority of the cells in our sample (47% of NST neurons and 86% of DMNV neurons) also responded to distension of the stomach and/or duodenum. It is important to note, however, that many of the more broadly responsive neurons in the dorsal vagal complex were able to distinguish between mechanical and chemical stimulation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Most of the NST neurons that responded to duodenal perfusion with HCl were excited by this stimulus. Conversely, activity of most of the DMNV neurons decreased after the onset of the HCl stimulus. These findings verify the existence of a vagovagal reflex pathway initiated by duodenal perfusion with acid. Presumably, this reflex would decrease gastric motility and acid secretion, reducing the amount of acid that enters the duodenum and ultimately protecting the intestinal mucosa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Digestive System / innervation*
  • Digestive System Physiological Phenomena
  • Gastric Acid / physiology
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Solitary Nucleus / physiology
  • Stimulation, Chemical
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology*