• vagus nerve;
  • nucleus of the solitary tract;
  • axotomy;
  • synaptic plasticity


Vagotomy, a severing of the peripheral axons of the vagus nerve, has been extensively utilized to determine the role of vagal afferents in viscerosensory signaling. Vagotomy is also an unavoidable component of some bariatric surgeries. Although it is known that peripheral axons of the vagus nerve degenerate and then regenerate to a limited extent following vagotomy, very little is known about the response of central vagal afferents in the dorsal vagal complex to this type of damage. We tested the hypothesis that vagotomy results in the transient withdrawal of central vagal afferent terminals from their primary central target, the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS). Sprague–Dawley rats underwent bilateral subdiaphragmatic vagotomy and were sacrificed 10, 30, or 60 days later. Plastic changes in vagal afferent fibers and synapses were investigated at the morphological and functional levels by using a combination of an anterograde tracer, synapse-specific markers, and patch-clamp electrophysiology in horizontal brain sections. Morphological data revealed that numbers of vagal afferent fibers and synapses in the NTS were significantly reduced 10 days following vagotomy and were restored to control levels by 30 days and 60 days, respectively. Electrophysiology revealed transient decreases in spontaneous glutamate release, glutamate release probability, and the number of primary afferent inputs. Our results demonstrate that subdiaphragmatic vagotomy triggers transient withdrawal and remodeling of central vagal afferent terminals in the NTS. The observed vagotomy-induced plasticity within this key feeding center of the brain may be partially responsible for the response of bariatric patients following gastric bypass surgery. J. Comp. Neurol. 521:3584-3599, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.