Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation Does Not Affect Verbal Memory Performance in Healthy Volunteers.
Introduction: Invasive vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) improves word recognition memory in patients with epilepsy. Recent studies with transcutaneous VNS (tVNS) have also shown positive effects on various subdomains of cognitive functioning in healthy volunteers. In this randomized, controlled, crossover study, we investigated the effect of tVNS on a word recognition memory paradigm in healthy volunteers to further investigate the potential of tVNS in the treatment of cognitive disorders.
Methods: We included 41 healthy participants aged between 18 and 30 years (young age group) and 24 healthy participants aged between 45 and 80 years (older age group). Each participant completed a word recognition memory paradigm during three different conditions: true tVNS, sham, and control. During true tVNS, stimulation was delivered at the cymba conchae. Sham stimulation was delivered by stimulating the earlobe. In the control condition, no stimulation was given. In each condition, participants were asked to remember highlighted words from three test paragraphs. Accuracy scores were calculated for immediate recall after each test paragraph and for delayed recognition at the end of the paradigm. We hypothesized that highlighted words from paragraphs in the true tVNS condition would be more accurately recalled and/or recognized compared to highlighted words from paragraphs in the sham or control condition.
Results: In this randomized study, tVNS did not affect the accuracy scores for immediate recall or delayed recognition in both age groups. The younger group showed significantly higher accuracy scores than the older group. The accuracy scores improved over time, and the most recently learned words were better recognized. Participants rated true tVNS as significantly more painful; however, pain was not found to affect accuracy scores.
Conclusion: In this study, tVNS did not affect verbal memory performance in healthy volunteers. Our results could not replicate the positive effects of invasive VNS on word recognition memory in epilepsy patients. Future research with the aim of improving cognitive function should focus on the rational identification of optimized and individualized stimulation settings primarily in patients with cognitive deficits.
PMID: 32351421 [PubMed]
Front Psychol. 2020;11:551
Authors: Mertens A, Naert L, Miatton M, Poppa T, Carrette E, Gadeyne S, Raedt R, Boon P, Vonck K