tVNS Enhances Learning of Novel Letter-Sound Relationships

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Transcutaneous Auricular Vagus Nerve Stimulation Enhances Learning of Novel Letter-Sound Relationships in Adults.

BACKGROUND: Reading is a critical skill in modern society but is significantly more difficult to acquire during adulthood. Many adults are required to learn a new orthography after this window closes for personal or vocational reasons and while many programs and training methods exist for learning to read in adulthood, none result in native-like fluency. Implantable cervical vagus nerve stimulation is capable of driving neural plasticity but is invasive and not practical as a reading intervention.
OBJECTIVE: The goal of the current study was to evaluate whether non-invasive transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS) is effective at enhancing novel orthography acquisition in young adults.
METHODS: We enrolled 37 typically developing participants and randomly assigned them to a computer control, device sham control, earlobe stimulation control, or experimental transcutaneous auricular stimulation (taVNS) group. Participants then learned novel letter-sound correspondences in Hebrew over five training lessons. Performance was assessed using three measures to evaluate various aspects of reading: Letter ID, Automaticity, and Decoding.
RESULTS: The taVNS group significantly outperformed the three control groups on both the Automaticity and Decoding tasks. There was no difference on the Letter ID task.
CONCLUSIONS: These results demonstrate, for the first time, that taVNS is capable of improving aspects of reading acquisition in adults. These findings have potential implications for a wide range of cognitive tasks.

PMID: 33127581 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

Brain Stimul. 2020 Oct 27;:

Authors: Thakkar VJ, Engelhart AS, Khodaparast N, Abadzi H, Centanni TM