The cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway is an efferent vagus nerve-based mechanism that regulates immune responses and cytokine production through alpha 7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (alpha 7nAChR) signaling. Decreased efferent vagus nerve activity is observed in inflammatory bowel disease. We determined whether central activation of this pathway alters inflammation in mice with colitis and the mediating role of a vagus nerve-to-spleen circuit and alpha 7nAChR signaling. Two experimental models of colitis were used in C57BL/6 mice. Central cholinergic activation induced by the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor galantamine or a muscarinic acetylcholine receptor agonist treatments resulted in reduced mucosal inflammation associated with decreased major histocompatibility complex II level and pro-inflammatory cytokine secretion by splenic CD11c(+) cells mediated by alpha 7nAChR signaling. The cholinergic anti-inflammatory efficacy was abolished in mice with vagotomy, splenic neurectomy, or splenectomy. In conclusion, central cholinergic activation of a vagus nerve-to-spleen circuit controls intestinal inflammation and this regulation can be explored to develop novel therapeutic strategies.
School of Medicine