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J Physiol. 2016 May 15;594(10):2661-79. doi: 10.1113/JP272069.

Optogenetic and pharmacological evidence that somatostatin-GABA neurons are important regulators of parasympathetic outflow to the stomach.

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Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC, USA.



The dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMV) in the brainstem consists primarily of vagal preganglionic neurons that innervate postganglionic neurons of the upper gastrointestinal tract. The activity of the vagal preganglionic neurons is predominantly regulated by GABAergic transmission in the DMV. The present findings indicate that the overwhelming GABAergic drive present at the DMV is primarily from somatostatin positive GABA (Sst-GABA) DMV neurons. Activation of both melanocortin and μ-opioid receptors at the DMV inhibits Sst-GABA DMV neurons. Sst-GABA DMV neurons may serve as integrative targets for modulating vagal output activity to the stomach.


We have previously shown that local GABA signalling in the brainstem is an important determinant of vagally-mediated gastric activity. However, the neural identity of this GABA source is currently unknown. To determine this, we focused on the somatostatin positive GABA (Sst-GABA) interneuron in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMV), a nucleus that is intimately involved in regulating gastric activity. Also of particular interest was the effect of melanocortin and μ-opioid agonists on neural activity of Sst-GABA DMV neurons because their in vivo administration in the DMV mimics GABA blockade in the nucleus. Experiments were conducted in brain slice preparation of transgenic adult Sst-IRES-Cre mice expressing tdTomato fluorescence, channelrhodopsin-2, archaerhodopsin or GCaMP3. Electrophysiological recordings were obtained from Sst-GABA DMV neurons or DiI labelled gastric-antrum projecting DMV neurons. Our results show that optogenetic stimulation of Sst-GABA neurons results in a robust inhibition of action potentials of labelled premotor DMV neurons to the gastric-antrum through an increase in inhibitory post-synaptic currents. The activity of the Sst-GABA neurons in the DMV is inhibited by both melanocortin and μ-opioid agonists. These agonists counteract the pronounced inhibitory effect of Sst-GABA neurons on vagal pre-motor neurons in the DMV that control gastric motility. These observations demonstrate that Sst-GABA neurons in the brainstem are crucial for regulating the activity of gastric output neurons in the DMV. Additionally, they suggest that these neurons serve as targets for converging CNS signals to regulate parasympathetic gastric function.

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