Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Medical Science)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation





First Advisor

Dr. Bret N. Smith


The dorsal vagal complex (DVC), containing the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) and the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve (DMV), plays a pivotal role in autonomic regulation. Afferent fibers from peripheral organs and higher brain centers synapse in the NTS, which integrates these synaptic connections as well as information from systemically circulating hormones and metabolites. The integrated information is relayed to the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve (DMV), which in turn, projects motor fibers to elicit parasympathetic control of digestive and other viscera. Physiological functions mediated by the DVC are disrupted in diabetic patients and synaptic plasticity within the DVC has been linked to these complications. N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptors have been extensively studied for their involvement in synaptic plasticity in a variety of central nervous system disorders; and their activation in the DVC modulates hepatic glucose production and feeding behavior. Although chronic disease can alter NMDA function, changes in DVC expression and/or sensitivity of NMDA receptors in diabetic states has not been addressed. Using whole cell electrophysiology, functional properties of the nuclei in the DVC were investigated in normoglycemic and type 1 diabetic mice. Preterminal NMDA (preNMDA) receptors were discovered to tonically modulate excitatory neurotransmission on terminals contacting DMV neurons. While these preNMDA receptors were not found to differentially modulate tonic excitatory neurotranmission, soma-dendritic NMDA receptor responses of NTS neurons were augmented in type 1 diabetic mice. Through the use single-cell PCR, increased NMDA receptor responses could be correlated to neurons that mediate excitatory neurotransmission and would argue that augmented NMDA receptor responses increase vagal output. In general, enhancing vagal output decreases activity of connected peripheral organs. Molecular approaches were employed to corroborate the observed functional NMDA receptors changes to their protein and mRNA expression levels. Overall, results argue that NMDA receptors are involved in synaptic plasticity in DVC of type 1 diabetic mice to enhance excitatory neurotransmission. This modulation may potentially serve as a physiological counter regulatory mechanism to control pathological disturbances of gastrointestinal homeostatic reflex responses.