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What Happens in Vagus

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on 28 May 2014

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Transcript of What Happens in Vagus


Bear, M., Connors, B., Paradiso, M. (2007).
Neuroscience: Exploring the brain
. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Cozolino, L. (2013).
The social neuroscience of education: Optimizing attachment & learning in the classroom
. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Interpersonal Neurobiology Learning Tool
Jeff Gierer, M.S., CCC-SLP
Portland State University

The Vagus Nerve is known as the tenth cranial nerve (or often just CNX) and emerges from the brainstem (below and beneath the structures shown here). The Vagus, like all human cranial nerves, is a pair of nerves, but usually only referred to in the singular (Bear, Connors, & Paradiso, 2007).
Here is the Vagus as it descends from the brainstem towards the throat, lungs, heart, and beyond.
The Vagus Nerve has many jobs and has both motor and sensory nerve tracts. Some estimate that the Vagus makes up 90% of all nerves conveying sensory information about the body’s organs (or viscera) to the brain (Bear, Connors, & Paradiso, 2007). Branches of the Vagus (like the ones shown to the left) are found all throughout the human thorax, coiling through and around many major organs (like those pictured next).
Besides sensory information, the Vagus also controls motor functions (particularly the muscles of the throat). Every time you swallow or laugh or talk, the Vagus is partially in charge of the movement (Bear, Connors, & Paradiso, 2007).
The Vagus is such an important nerve and information source for the body because it is connected to and wraps itself in and around most of the major organs in the body. In medieval Latin, the word
means “wandering.” The organs on this chart are shown to give you a sense of the many bodily systems the Vagus manages. In real life, the organs are crisscrossed by main avenues the Vagus. In fact, heart surgeons working near the main arteries take great care because the Vagus wraps itself around the heart and in-between two of the main arteries (Bear, Connors, & Paradiso, 2007).
The Vagus is not just in charge of voluntary movements, it also controls the automatic functions of the heart, lungs, and abdominal organs. You do not have to consciously think about each breath or beat of your heart because the Vagus is in charge in the background (Bear, Connors, & Paradiso, 2007; Cozolino, 2013).
As you probably guessed, the Vagus affects many parts of our bodies. The Vagus speeds up our hearts if we are afraid, relaxes our breathing when we are calm, puts our system on high alert if there is danger, and more. The complex functions of the Vagus determine how we interact with one another (especially in challenging situations) and may change how we feel and express our emotions (Cozolino, 2013).
small intestines
large intestines
Vagus nerve fibers
the Vagus (CNX)
An Introduction to the Paths of the Vagus
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