Non-Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation for the ACute Treatment of Cluster Headache: Findings From the Randomized, Double-Blind, Sham-Controlled ACT1 Study

Stephen D Silberstein, Laszlo L Mechtler, David B Kudrow, Anne H Calhoun, Candace McClure, Joel R Saper, Eric J Liebler, Emily Rubenstein Engel, Stewart J Tepper
Headache 2016, 56 (8): 1317-32

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation (nVNS) as an acute cluster headache (CH) treatment.

BACKGROUND: Many patients with CH experience excruciating attacks at a frequency that is not sufficiently addressed by current symptomatic treatments.

METHODS: One hundred fifty subjects were enrolled and randomized (1:1) to receive nVNS or sham treatment for ≤1 month during a double-blind phase; completers could enter a 3-month nVNS open-label phase. The primary end point was response rate, defined as the proportion of subjects who achieved pain relief (pain intensity of 0 or 1) at 15 minutes after treatment initiation for the first CH attack without rescue medication use through 60 minutes. Secondary end points included the sustained response rate (15-60 minutes). Subanalyses of episodic cluster headache (eCH) and chronic cluster headache (cCH) cohorts were prespecified.

RESULTS: The intent-to-treat population comprised 133 subjects: 60 nVNS-treated (eCH, n = 38; cCH, n = 22) and 73 sham-treated (eCH, n = 47; cCH, n = 26). A response was achieved in 26.7% of nVNS-treated subjects and 15.1% of sham-treated subjects (P = .1). Response rates were significantly higher with nVNS than with sham for the eCH cohort (nVNS, 34.2%; sham, 10.6%; P = .008) but not the cCH cohort (nVNS, 13.6%; sham, 23.1%; P = .48). Sustained response rates were significantly higher with nVNS for the eCH cohort (P = .008) and total population (P = .04). Adverse device effects (ADEs) were reported by 35/150 (nVNS, 11; sham, 24) subjects in the double-blind phase and 18/128 subjects in the open-label phase. No serious ADEs occurred.

CONCLUSIONS: In one of the largest randomized sham-controlled studies for acute CH treatment, the response rate was not significantly different (vs sham) for the total population; nVNS provided significant, clinically meaningful, rapid, and sustained benefits for eCH but not for cCH, which affected results in the total population. This safe and well-tolerated treatment represents a novel and promising option for eCH. identifier: NCT01792817.

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