Selective optogenetic stimulation of efferent fibers in the vagus nerve of a large mammal


BACKGROUND. Electrical stimulation applied to individual organs, peripheral nerves, or specific brain regions has been used to treat a range of medical conditions. In cardiovascular disease, autonomic dysfunction contributes to the disease progression and electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve has been pursued as a treatment for the purpose of restoring the autonomic balance. However, this approach lacks selectivity in activating function- and organ-specific vagal fibers and, despite promising results of many preclinical studies, has so far failed to translate into a clinical treatment of cardiovascular disease. OBJECTIVE. Here we report a successful application of optogenetics for selective stimulation of vagal efferent activity in a large animal model (sheep). METHODS AND RESULTS. Twelve weeks after viral transduction of a subset of vagal motoneurons, strong axonal membrane expression of the excitatory light-sensitive ion channel ChIEF was achieved in the efferent projections innervating thoracic organs and reaching beyond the level of the diaphragm. Blue laser or LED light (>10 mW mm−2; 1 ms pulses) applied to the cervical vagus triggered precisely timed, strong bursts of efferent activity with evoked action potentials propagating at speeds of ∼6 m s−1. CONCLUSIONS. These findings demonstrate that in species with a large, multi-fascicled vagus nerve, it is possible to stimulate a specific sub-population of efferent fibers using light at a site remote from the vector delivery, marking an important step towards eventual clinical use of optogenetic technology for autonomic neuromodulation.

Brain Stimulation 14(1)