It is known that sensory signals sustain the background discharge of the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) which includes the noradrenergic locus coeruleus (LC) neurons and controls the level of attention and alertness. Moreover, LC neurons influence brain metabolic activity, gene expression and brain inflammatory processes. As a consequence of the sensory control of ARAS/LC, stimulation of a sensory channel may potential influence neuronal activity and trophic state all over the brain, supporting cognitive functions and exerting a neuroprotective action. On the other hand, an imbalance of the same input on the two sides may lead to an asymmetric hemispheric excitability, leading to an impairment in cognitive functions. Among the inputs that may drive LC neurons and ARAS, those arising from the trigeminal region, from visceral organs and, possibly, from the vestibular system seem to be particularly relevant in regulating their activity. The trigeminal, visceral and vestibular control of ARAS/LC activity may explain why these input signals: (1) affect sensorimotor and cognitive functions which are not directly related to their specific informational content; and (2) are effective in relieving the symptoms of some brain pathologies, thus prompting peripheral activation of these input systems as a complementary approach for the treatment of cognitive impairments and neurodegenerative disorders.
- Journal Article