The cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway revisited

K. Murray, Colin Reardon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Inflammatory bowel disease negatively affects the quality of life of millions of patients around the world. Although the precise etiology of the disease remains elusive, aberrant immune system activation is an underlying cause. As such, therapies that selectively inhibit immune cell activation without broad immunosuppression are desired. Inhibition of immune cell activation preventing pro-inflammatory cytokine production through neural stimulation has emerged as one such treatment. These therapeutics are based on the discovery of the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway, a reflex arc that induces efferent vagal nerve signaling to reduce immune cell activation and consequently mortality during septic shock. Despite the success of preclinical and clinical trials, the neural circuitry and mechanisms of action of these immune-regulatory circuits are controversial. At the heart of this controversy is the protective effect of vagal nerve stimulation despite an apparent lack of neuroanatomical connections between the vagus and target organs. Additional studies have further emphasized the importance of sympathetic innervation of these organs, and that alternative neural circuits could be involved in neural regulation of the immune system. Such controversies also extend to the regulation of intestinal inflammation, with the importance of efferent vagus nerve signals in question. Experiments that better characterize these pathways have now been performed by Willemze et al. in this issue of Neurogastroenterology & Motility. These continued efforts will be critical to the development of better neurostimulator based therapeutics for inflammatory bowel disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13288
JournalNeurogastroenterology and Motility
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • autonomic nervous system
  • cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway
  • colitis
  • inflammation
  • vagal nerve stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Gastroenterology


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