Anatomy word of the month: Vagus

December 1, 2011 —

VagusVagus means “wandering” in Latin. This aptly named nerve (there are a pair of them) meanders from our brainstem, down the sides of our neck giving branches to our palate, larynx and pharynx, through our chest cavity providing branches to the heart and lungs, and into our abdominal cavity providing branches to most of our digestive tract. Vagal stimulation to the stomach enhances acid secretion, peristalsis (churning activity) and emptying into the small intestine. Vagal branches also stimulate secretions and peristalsis in our intestines. The same root meaning of vagus is found in the common words vague, vagrant and vagabond.


Dr. Dyche was born in New Jersey and trained at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center before coming to Des Moines in 1976. Over 30 plus years he has taught gross anatomy, embryology and neuroanatomy. He also served in administration as associate dean for basic sciences, dean of the College of Health Sciences, and acting director of the PA program. He was one of the founding instructors of CPR and ACLS at a time when few medical schools offered this training. He retired to Oregon in 2008, then returned to DMU in 2009. Did he miss the tornadoes, the below zero wind chills or the cadavers?