Anti-inflammatory effects and mechanisms of vagal nerve stimulation combined with electroacupuncture in a rodent model of TNBS-induced colitis

Haifeng Jin, Jie Guo, Jiemin Liu, Bin Lyu, Robert D. Foreman, Jieyun Yin, Zhaohong Shi, Jiande D.Z. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to determine the effects and mechanisms of vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) and additive effects of electroacupuncture (EA) on colonic inflammation in a rodent model of IBD. Chronic inflammation in rats was induced by intrarectal TNBS (2,4,6-trinitrobenzenesulfonic acid). The rats were then treated with sham ES (electrical stimulation), VNS, or VNS + EA for 3 wk. Inflammatory responses were assessed by disease activity index (DAI), macroscopic scores and histological scores of colonic tissues, plasma levels of TNFα, IL-1β, and IL-6, and myeloperoxidase (MPO) activity of colonic tissues. The autonomic function was assessed by the spectral analysis of heart rate variability (HRV) derived from the electrocardiogram. It was found that 1) the area under curve (AUC) of DAI was substantially decreased with VNS + EA and VNS, with VNS + EA being more effective than VNS (P < 0.001); 2) the macroscopic score was 6.43 _ 0.61 in the sham ES group and reduced to 1.86 ± 0.26 with VNS (P < 0.001) and 1.29 ± 0.18 with VNS + EA (P < 0.001); 3) the histological score was 4.05 ± 0.58 in the sham ES group and reduced to 1.93 ± 0.37 with VNS (P < 0.001) and 1.36 ± 0.20 with VNS + EA (P < 0.001); 4) the plasma levels of TNFα, IL-1β, IL-6, and MPO were all significantly decreased with VNS and VNS + EA compared with the sham ES group; and 5) autonomically, both VNS + EA and VNS substantially increased vagal activity and decreased sympathetic activity compared with sham EA (P < 0.001, P < 0.001, respectively). In conclusion, chronic VNS improves inflammation in TNBS-treated rats by inhibiting proinflammatory cytokines via the autonomic mechanism. Addition of noninvasive EA to VNS may enhance the antiinflammatory effect of VNS. New & Noteworthy This is the first study to address and compare the effects of vagal nerve stimulation (VNS), electrical acupuncture (EA) and VNS + EA on TNBS (2,4,6-trinitrobenzenesulfonic acid)-induced colitis in rats. The proposed chronic VNS + EA, VNS, and EA were shown to decrease DAI and ameliorate macroscopic and microscopic damages in rats with TNBS-induced colitis via the autonomic pathway. The addition of EA to VNS provided a significant effect on the behavioral assessment of inflammation (DAI, CMDI, and histological score) but not on cytokines or mechanistic measurements, suggesting an overall systemic effect of EA. View this article’s corresponding video summary at

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)G192-G202
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • 2,4,6-trinitrobenzenesulfonic acid
  • Autonomic functions
  • Cytokines
  • Electroacupuncture
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases
  • Vagal nerve stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)


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