Ingested food and water stimulate sensory systems in the oropharyngeal and gastrointestinal areas before absorption1,2. These sensory signals modulate brain appetite circuits in a feed-forward manner3–5. Emerging evidence suggests that osmolality sensing in the gut rapidly inhibits thirst neurons upon water intake. Nevertheless, it remains unclear how peripheral sensory neurons detect visceral osmolality changes, and how they modulate thirst. Here we use optical and electrical recording combined with genetic approaches to visualize osmolality responses from sensory ganglion neurons. Gut hypotonic stimuli activate a dedicated vagal population distinct from mechanical-, hypertonic- or nutrient-sensitive neurons. We demonstrate that hypotonic responses are mediated by vagal afferents innervating the hepatic portal area (HPA), through which most water and nutrients are absorbed. Eliminating sensory inputs from this area selectively abolished hypotonic but not mechanical responses in vagal neurons. Recording from forebrain thirst neurons and behavioural analyses show that HPA-derived osmolality signals are required for feed-forward thirst satiation and drinking termination. Notably, HPA-innervating vagal afferents do not sense osmolality itself. Instead, these responses are mediated partly by vasoactive intestinal peptide secreted after water ingestion. Together, our results reveal visceral hypoosmolality as an important vagal sensory modality, and that intestinal osmolality change is translated into hormonal signals to regulate thirst circuit activity through the HPA pathway.
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