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Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044

Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain-Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders

Sigrid Breit1* and  Gregor Hasler1*
  • 1Division of Molecular Pschiatry, Translational Research Center, University of Bern, Switzerland

The vagus nerve represents the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which oversees a vast array of crucial bodily functions including control of mood, immune response, digestion and heart rate. It establishes one of the connections between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract and sends information about the state of the inner organs to the brain via afferent fibers. In this review article, we discuss various functions of the vagus nerve which make it an attractive target in treating psychiatric and gastrointestinal disorders. There is preliminary evidence that vagus nerve stimulation is a promising add-on treatment for treatment-refractory depression, PTSD and inflammatory bowel disease. Treatments that target the vagus nerve increase the vagal tone and inhibit cytokine production. Both are important mechanism of resiliency. The stimulation of vagal afferent fibers in the gut influences monoaminergic brain systems in the brain stem that play crucial roles in major psychiatric conditions such as mood and anxiety disorders. In line, there is preliminary evidence for gut bacteria to have beneficial effect on mood and anxiety, partly by affecting the activity of the vagus nerve. Since the vagal tone is correlated with capacity to regulate stress responses and can be influenced by breathing, its increase through meditation and yoga likely contribute to resilience and the mitigation of mood and anxiety symptoms.

Keywords: brain-gut axis, INFLAMMATORY BOWEL SYNDROME, Vagus Nerve Stimulation, Depression, Probiotics, posttraumatic stress disorder

Received: 28 Jul 2017; Accepted: 01 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Stefan Borgwardt, University of Basel, Switzerland

Reviewed by:

Miriam Goebel-Stengel, HELIOS Klinik Zerbst, Germany
Juergen Drewe, University Hospital of Basel, Switzerland  

Copyright: © 2018 Breit and Hasler. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence:
Dr. Sigrid Breit, University of Bern, Division of Molecular Pschiatry, Translational Research Center, Bern, Switzerland, Sigrid.Breit@upd.ch
Prof. Gregor Hasler, University of Bern, Division of Molecular Pschiatry, Translational Research Center, Bern, Switzerland, gregor.hasler@puk.unibe.ch