Abstract Purpose: To investigate the role of vagus nerve activation in the protective effects of hypercapnia in ventilator-induced lung injury (VILI) rats. Methods: Male Sprague-Dawley rats were randomized to either high-tidal volume or low-tidal volume ventilation (control) and monitored for 4h. The high-tidal volume group was further divided into either a vagotomy or sham-operated group and each surgery group was further divided into two subgroups: normocapnia and hypercapnia. Injuries were assessed hourly through hemodynamics, respiratory mechanics and gas exchange. Protein concentration, cell count and cytokines (TNF-α and IL-8) in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF), lung wet-to-dry weight and pathological changes were examined. Vagus nerve activity was recorded for 1h. Results: Compared to the control group, injurious ventilation resulted in a decrease in PaO2/FiO2 and greater lung static compliance, MPO activity, enhanced BALF cytokines, protein concentration, cell count, and histology injury score. Conversely, hypercapnia significantly improved VILI by decreasing the above injury parameters. However, vagotomy abolished the protective effect of hypercapnia on VILI. In addition, hypercapnia enhanced efferent vagus nerve activity compared to normocapnia. Conclusion: These results indicate that the vagus nerve plays an important role in mediating the anti-inflammatory effect of hypercapnia on VILI.