Motor fibers of the accessory celiac and celiac vagal branches are derived from the lateral columns of the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve. These branches also contain sensory fibers that terminate within the nucleus of the tractus solitarii. This study traces the innervation of the intestines by using the tracer cholera toxin-horseradish peroxidase. In 53 rats, the tracer was injected into either the stomach, duodenum, jejunum, terminal ileum, cecum, or ascending colon.
With all cecal injections, prominent retrograde labeling of cell bodies occurred bilaterally in the lateral columns of the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve above, at, and below the level of the area postrema. Dendrites of laterally positioned neurons projected medially and rostrocaudally within the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve and dorsomedially into both the medial subnucleus and parts of the commissural subnucleus of the nucleus of the tractus solitarii. Sensory terminal labeling occurred in the dorsolateral commissural subnucleus at the level of the rostral area postrema and the medial commissural subnucleus caudal to the area postrema. Additionally, there was sensory terminal labeling within a small confined area of the dorsomedial zone of the nucleus of the tractus solitarii immediately adjacent to the fourth ventricle at a level just anterior to the area postrema. Stomach injections labeled motoneurons of the medial column of the entire rostrocaudal extent of the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve and a sensory terminal field primarily in the subnucleus gelatinosus, with less intense labeling extending caudally into the medial and ventral commissural subnuclei. Dendrites of gastric motoneurons project rostrocaudally and mediolaterally within the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve and dorsolaterally within the nucleus of the tractus solitarii. They are most pronounced at the level of the rostral area postrema where many dendrites course dorsolaterally terminating primarily within the subnucleus gelatinosus.
Injections of the duodenum labeled a small number of the cells within the medial aspects of the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve. Jejunal, ileal, and ascending colon injections labeled cells sparsely within the lateral aspects of the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve bilaterally. No afferent terminal labeling was evident after injection of these areas of the bowel.
The dorsal vagal complex has a prominent viscerotopography: the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve has a mediolateral organization corresponding to end-organ innervation; the nucleus of the tractus solitarii has a rostrocaudal axis of visceral representation with some overlap corresponding to rostrocaudal positioning along the alimentary canal and mediolateral separation of terminals within the nucleus.