tVNS at 1 Hz modulates locus coeruleus activity

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Transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation at 1 Hz modulates locus coeruleus activity and resting state functional connectivity in patients with migraine: An fMRI study.

Neuroimage Clin. 2019;24:101971

Authors: Zhang Y, Liu J, Li H, Yan Z, Liu X, Cao J, Park J, Wilson G, Liu B, Kong J

Abstract
BACKGROUND: Migraine is a common episodic neurological disorder. Literature has shown that transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS) at 1 Hz can significantly relieve migraine symptoms. However, its underlying mechanism remains unclear. This study aims to investigate the neural pathways associated with taVNS treatment of migraine.
METHODS: Twenty-nine patients with migraine were recruited from outpatient neurology clinics. Each patient attended two magnetic resonance imaging/functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI/fMRI) scan sessions separated by one week. Each session included a pre-stimulation resting state fMRI scan, fMRI scans during real or sham 1 Hz taVNS (with block design), and a post-stimulation resting state fMRI scan.
RESULTS: Twenty-six patients were included in the final analyses. Real taVNS evoked fMRI signal decreases in brain areas belonging to the default mode network (DMN) and brain stem areas including the locus coeruleus (LC), raphe nuclei, parabrachial nucleus, and solitary nucleus. Sham taVNS evoked fMRI signal decreases in brain areas belonging to the DMN. Compared to sham taVNS, real taVNS produced greater deactivation at the bilateral LC. Resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) analysis showed that after taVNS, LC rsFC with the right temporoparietal junction and left secondary somatosensory cortex (S2) significantly increased compared to sham taVNS. The increased rsFC of the left LC-left S2 was significantly negatively associated with the frequency of migraine attacks during the preceding month.
CONCLUSION: Our results suggest that taVNS at 1 Hz can significantly modulate activity/connectivity of brain regions associated with the vagus nerve central pathway and pain modulation system, which may shed light on the neural mechanisms underlying taVNS treatment of migraine.

PMID: 31648171 [PubMed – in process]

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