Brainstem projections of sensory and motor components of the vagus nerve in the rat



The sensory and motor connections of the cervical vagus nerves and of its inferior ganglion (nodose ganglion) have been traced in the medulla and upper cervical spinal cord of 16 male Wistar rats by using horseradish peroxidase (HRP) neurohistochemistry. The use of tetramethyl benzidine (TMB) as the substrate for HRP permitted the visualization of transganglionic and retrograde transport in sensory nerve terminals and perikarya, respectively. The vagus nerve in the rat enters the medulla in numerous fascicles with points of entry covering the entire lateral aspect of the medulla extending from level +4 to - 6 mm rostrocaudal to the obex. Fascicles of vagal sensory fibers enter the dorsolateral aspect of the medulla and travel to the tractus solitarius (TS) which was labeled for over 8.8 mm in the medulla. The caudal extent of the TS receiving vagal projections was found in lamina V of the cervical spinal cord (C1 to C2). Sensory terminal fields could be visualized bilaterally in the nucleus of the tractus solitarius (nTS), area postrema (ap) and dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve (dmnX). The ipsilateral projection to the nTS and the dmnX was heavier than that found on the contralateral side. The area postrema was intensely labeled on both sides. Motor fibers from HRP-labeled perikarya in the dmnX travel ventromedially in a distinct fascicle and subsequently subdivide into a number of small fiber bundles that traverse the medullary reticular formation in the form of a fine network of HRP-labeled fibers. As these fibers from the dmnX approach the ventrolateral aspect of the medulla they are joined by axons from the nucleus ambiguus (nA), nucleus retroambigualis (nRA) and the retro facial nucleus (nRF). These latter fibers form hairpin loops in the middle of the reticular formation to accompany the axons from the dmnX exiting from the medulla in a ventrolateral location. HRP-labeled perikarya, in contrast to transganglionically transported HRP in sensory terminals in the nTS, were visualized on one side only, thus indicating that motor control via the vagus nerve is exerted only by motor neurons located ipsilaterally. Sensory information on the other hand, diverges to many nuclear subgroups located on both sides of the medulla.