Publication Date



Journal of Neuroinflammation


BACKGROUND: Inflammation is a fundamental biological response to injury and infection, which if unregulated can contribute to the pathophysiology of many diseases. The vagus nerve, which primarily originates from the dorsal motor nucleus (DMN), plays an important role in rapidly dampening inflammation by regulating splenic function. However, direct vagal innervation of the spleen, which houses the majority of immune and inflammatory cells, has not been established. As an alternative to direct innervation, an anti-inflammatory reflex pathway has been proposed which involves the vagus nerve, the sympathetic celiac ganglion, and the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Although sympathetic regulation of inflammation has been shown, the interaction of the vagus nerve and the celiac ganglia requires a unique interaction of parasympathetic and sympathetic inputs, making this putative mechanism of brain-spleen interaction controversial. BODY: As neuropeptides can be expressed at relatively high levels in neurons, we reasoned that DMN neuropeptide immunoreactivity could be used to determine their target innervation. Employing immunohistochemistry, subdiaphragmatic vagotomy, viral tract tracing, CRISPR-mediated knock-down, and functional assays, we show that cocaine and amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART) peptide-expressing projection neurons in the caudal DMN directly innervate the spleen. In response to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulation, CART acts to reduce inflammation, an effect that can be augmented by intrasplenic administration of a synthetic CART peptide. These in vivo effects could be recapitulated in cultured splenocytes, suggesting that these cells express the as yet unidentified CART receptor(s).

CONCLUSION: Our results provide evidence for direct connections between the caudal DMN and spleen. In addition to acetylcholine, these neurons express the neuropeptide CART that, once released, acts to suppress inflammation by acting directly upon splenocytes.


Humans, Spleen, Neurons, Neuropeptides, Vagus Nerve, Inflammation



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