Sensory recovery after chronic nerve damage.

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The tactile experience paired with vagus nerve stimulation determines the degree of sensory recovery after chronic nerve damage.

Loss of sensory function is a common consequence of neurological injury. Recent clinical and preclinical evidence indicates vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) paired with tactile rehabilitation, consisting of delivery of a variety of mechanical stimuli to the hyposensitive skin surface, yields substantial and long-lasting recovery of somatosensory function after median and ulnar nerve transection and repair. Here, we tested the hypothesis that a specific component of the tactile rehabilitation paired with VNS is necessary for recovery of somatosensory function. In a second experiment in a separate cohort, we investigated whether VNS paired with tactile rehabilitation could improve skilled forelimb motor function. Elements of the study design, including planned sample size, assessments, and statistical comparisons, were preregistered prior to beginning data collection ( Animals received a peripheral nerve injury (PNI) causing chronic sensory loss. Eight weeks after injury, animals were given a VNS implant followed by six weeks of tactile rehabilitation sessions consisting of repeated application of one of two distinct mechanical stimuli, a filament or a paintbrush, to the previously denervated forepaw. VNS paired with either filament indentation or brushing of the paw significantly improved recovery of forelimb withdrawal thresholds after PNI compared to tactile rehabilitation without VNS. The effect size was twice as large when VNS was paired with brushing compared to VNS paired with point indentation. An independent replication in a second cohort confirmed that VNS paired with brush restored forelimb withdrawal thresholds to normal. These rats displayed significant improvements in performance on a skilled forelimb task compared to rats that did not receive VNS. These findings support the utility of pairing VNS with tactile rehabilitation to improve recovery of somatosensory and motor function after neurological injury. Additionally, this study demonstrates that the sensory characteristics of the rehabilitation paired with VNS determine the degree of recovery.

PMID: 32971197 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

Behav Brain Res. 2020 Sep 21;:112910

Authors: Darrow MJ, Mian TM, Torres M, Haider Z, Danaphongse T, Seyedahmadi A, Rennaker RL, Hays SA, Kilgard MP