The adaptability of the central nervous system has been revealed in several model systems. Of particular interest to central nervous system-injured individuals is the ability for neural components to be modified for regain of function. In both types of neurotrauma, traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury, the primary parasympathetic control to the gastrointestinal tract, the vagus nerve, remains anatomically intact. However, individuals with traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury are highly susceptible to gastrointestinal dysfunctions. Such gastrointestinal dysfunctions attribute to higher morbidity and mortality following traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. While the vagal efferent output remains capable of eliciting motor responses following injury, evidence suggests impairment of the vagal afferents. Since sensory input drives motor output, this review will discuss the normal and altered anatomy and physiology of the gastrointestinal vagal afferents to better understand the contributions of vagal afferent plasticity following neurotrauma.

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PubMed