Vagus nerve stimulation: a new tool for brain research and therapy

M S George, H A Sackeim, A J Rush, L B Marangell, Z Nahas, M M Husain, S Lisanby, T Burt, J Goldman, J C Ballenger
Biological Psychiatry 2000 February 15, 47 (4): 287-95
Biological psychiatry has a long history of using somatic therapies to treat neuropsychiatric illnesses and to understand brain function. These methods have included neurosurgery, electroconvulsive therapy, and, most recently, transcranial magnetic stimulation. Fourteen years ago researchers discovered that intermittent electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve produces inhibition of neural processes, which can alter brain electrical activity and terminate seizures in dogs. Since then, approximately 6000 people worldwide have received vagus nerve stimulation for treatment-resistant epilepsy. We review the neurobiology and anatomy of the vagus nerve and provide an overview of the vagus nerve stimulation technique. We also describe the safety and potential utility of vagus nerve stimulation as a neuroscience research tool and as a putative treatment for psychiatric conditions. Vagus nerve stimulation appears to be a promising new somatic intervention that may improve our understanding of brain function and has promise in the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders.

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