The vagus nerve modulates BDNF expression and neurogenesis in the hippocampus

Olivia F. O'Leary, Ebere S. Ogbonnaya, Daniela Felice, Brunno R. Levone, Lorraine C. Conroy, Patrick Fitzgerald, Javier A. Bravo, Paul Forsythe, John Bienenstock, Timothy G. Dinan, John F. Cryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Accumulating evidence suggests that certain gut microbiota have antidepressant-like behavioural effects and that the microbiota can regulate neurogenesis and the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus. The precise mechanisms underlying these effects are not yet clear. However, the vagus nerve is one of the primary bidirectional routes of communication between the gut and the brain and thus may represent a candidate mechanism. Yet, relatively little is known about the direct influence of vagus nerve activity on hippocampal function and plasticity. Thus, the aim of the present study was to determine whether constitutive vagus nerve activity contributes to the regulation of neurogenesis and BDNF mRNA expression in the hippocampus. To this end, we examined the impact of subdiaphragmatic vagotomy in adult mice on these parameters. We found that vagotomy decreased BDNF mRNA in all areas of the hippocampus. Vagotomy also reduced the proliferation and survival of newly born cells and decreased the number of immature neurons, particularly those with a more complex dendritic morphology. Taken together, these findings suggest that vagal nerve activity influences neurogenesis and BDNF mRNA expression in the adult hippocampus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-316
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Neuropsychopharmacology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • BDNF
  • Dorsal hippocampus
  • Microbiota
  • Neurogenesis
  • Vagus nerve
  • Ventral hippocampus


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