The vagus nerve plays a vital role in adjusting behavior according to metabolic demands by transmitting signals from peripheral organs to the brain. Although vagal afferent projections are assumed to play a limited role in goal-directed behavior, I will review emerging evidence on their relevance in allostasis—facilitating prospective changes in behavior that ensure long-term stability of homeostasis. First, in line with recent preclinical findings, I will show that non-invasive transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) boosts motivation and mood recovery after exertion. Second, I will highlight stimulation-induced changes in reinforcement learning, indicating a broader role of vagal afferents in value-based decision-making. Third, I will review how tVNS modulates the integration of bodily signals and discuss how multimodal studies on gut-brain interaction may help advance insights about adaptive behavior beyond deliberate top-down control. Fourth, I will outline several remaining challenges and open questions that still hamper translational advances. Taken together, the recent progress has paved the way for an improved understanding of the control of adaptive behavior by signals originating from the body, which may help resolve long-standing questions about the link between somatic symptoms and mental disorders.
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