Gut-brain communication and obesity: understanding functions of the vagus nerve

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Given the crucial role of the gastrointestinal tract and associated organs in handling nutrient assimilation and metabolism, it has long been known that its communication with the brain is important for the control of ingestive behavior and body weight regulation. It is also clear that gut-brain communication is bidirectional and utilizes both rapid neural and slower humoral mechanisms and pathways. However, progress in understanding these mechanisms and leveraging them for the treatment of obesity and metabolic disease has been hindered by the enormous dimension of the gut mucosa, the complexity of the signaling systems, and lack of specific tools. With the ascent of modern neurobiological technology, our understanding of the role of vagal afferents in gut-brain communication has begun to change. The first function-specific populations of vagal afferents providing nutritional feedback as well as feed-forward signals have been identified with genetics-guided methodology, and it is hoped that extension of the methodology to other neural communication pathways will follow soon. Currently, efficient clinical leveraging of gut-brain communication to treat obesity and metabolic disease is limited to a few gut hormones, but a more complete understanding of function-specific and projection-specific neuronal populations should make it possible to develop selective and more effective neuromodulation approaches.

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The Journal of clinical investigation

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