AS I peered at its sinewy, tentacle-like tendrils, I believed the pale construction splayed on the desk earlier than me resembled an enormous tapeworm, or maybe a scrawny squid.
Its lacklustre look didn’t match with the marvel of what I knew it to be: a human vagus nerve, the sensory superhighway that connects our mind to most of our important organs and helps regulate all the things from the motion of meals via our intestines to the regular beating of our coronary heart.
I used to be on the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Analysis in New York, viewing certainly one of 30 vagus nerve samples being diced, sliced and imaged by Stavros Zanos and his colleagues. The aim? To create an in depth map of the roughly 160,000 nerve fibres alongside its construction.
This bold effort comes after current analysis has revealed the vagus nerve’s position in a wider array of processes than we ever realised – not solely monitoring organ operate, however serving to discern facial expressions and even regulating temper. Most enticingly, we’re beginning to perceive the way it governs irritation, the immune response that runs rampant in circumstances starting from coronary heart illness to Parkinson’s.
Already, electrical units known as vagus nerve stimulators are used to deal with epilepsy, melancholy, migraines and weight problems. However they’re restricted by our rudimentary understanding of the nerve’s complicated construction. Now, efforts to untangle its mysteries are permitting us to map every of its branches and even uncover specialised cell varieties we by no means knew existed. Not solely would possibly these insights allow us to regulate irritation, they might open a complete new frontier for precision medication.
What’s the vagus nerve?
The vagus …