Electrophysiology of Vagal Afferents

Amino Acid Detection in the Gut


Address for correspondence: Charles C. Horn, Ph.D., Monell Chemical Senses Center, 3500 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. Voice: 267-519-4865; fax: 267-519-4701. Horn@monell.org


The alimentary canal includes the mouth, stomach, and intestines, and is connected to the brain by thousands of chemosensory neurons. In contrast to the understanding of the lingual taste system, there is little insight into the chemosensory function of other regions of the alimentary canal. The presence of known taste receptors in the gastrointestinal tract suggests a similarity to taste mechanisms present in the oral cavity. Afferent fibers of the vagus play a prominent role in signaling the chemical contents of the gastrointestinal tract to the hindbrain and this information can be used to elicit defensive responses, such as vomiting or nutritional responses. A host of amino acids are likely detected by vagal afferent fibers, but the initial sensory transduction of these stimuli and functional significance remains a mystery. Several problems with recording the electrophysiological signals of vagal afferents are discussed, with particular reference to sampling the afferent signals from the duodenum and liver region.