Gut to Brain: Nerve Cells Detect What We Eat

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Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne, the Cluster of Excellence for Ageing Research CECAD at the University of Cologne and the University Hospital Cologne now took a closer look at the functions of the different nerve cells in the control centre of the vagus nerve, and discovered something very surprising: although the nerve cells are located in the same control center, they innervate different regions of the gut and also differentially control satiety and blood sugar levels.

This discovery could play an important role in the development of future therapeutic strategies against obesity and diabetes.

When we consume food, information about the ingested food is transmitted from the gastrointestinal tract to the brain in order to adapt feelings of hunger and satiety. Based on this information, the brain decides, for example, whether we continue or stop eating. In addition, our blood sugar level are adapted by the brain.

The vagus nerve, which extends from the brain all the way down to the gastrointestinal tract, plays an essential role in this communication. In the control center of the vagus nerve, the so-called nodose ganglion, various nerve cells are situated, some of which innervate the stomach while others innervate the intestine.

Some of these nerve cells detect mechanical stimuli in the different organs, such as stomach stretch during feeding, while others detect chemical signals, such as nutrients from the food that we consume.

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