Vagus Nerve Stimulation as a Gateway to Interoception

Author: Albertyna Paciorek1, Lina Skora2,3
1 Faculty of Psychology, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland.
2 Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom.
3 School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom.
Conference/Journal: Front Psychol
Date published: 2020 Jul 29
Other: Volume ID: 11 , Pages: 1659 , Special Notes: doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01659. , Word Count: 203

The last two decades have seen a growing interest in the study of interoception. Interoception can be understood as a hierarchical phenomenon, referring to the body-to-brain communication of internal signals, their sensing, encoding, and representation in the brain, influence on other cognitive and affective processes, and their conscious perception. Interoceptive signals have been notoriously challenging to manipulate in experimental settings. Here, we propose that this can be achieved through electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve (either in an invasive or non-invasive fashion). The vagus nerve is the main pathway for conveying information about the internal condition of the body to the brain. Despite its intrinsic involvement in interoception, surprisingly little research in the field has used Vagus Nerve Stimulation to explicitly modulate bodily signals. Here, we review a range of cognitive, affective and clinical research using Vagus Nerve Stimulation, showing that it can be applied to the study of interoception at each level of its hierarchy. This could have considerable implications for our understanding of the interoceptive dimension of cognition and affect in both health and disease, and lead to development of new therapeutic tools.

Keywords: VNS; interoception; tVNS; transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation; vagus nerve; vagus nerve stimulation.

PMID: 32849014 PMCID: PMC7403209 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01659