Transcutaneous Auricular Vagus Nerve Stimulation Combined With Slow Breathing: Speculations on Potential Applications and Technical Considerations

Author: Mikołaj Tytus Szulczewski1
1 Faculty of Psychology, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland.
Conference/Journal: Neuromodulation
Date published: 2021 Jun 23
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1111/ner.13458. , Word Count: 236

Transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS) is a relatively novel noninvasive neurostimulation method that is believed to mimic the effects of invasive cervical VNS. It has recently been suggested that the effectiveness of taVNS can be enhanced by combining it with controlled slow breathing. Slow breathing modulates the activity of the vagus nerve and is used in behavioral medicine to decrease psychophysiological arousal. Based on studies that examine the effects of taVNS and slow breathing separately, this article speculates on some of the conditions in which this combination treatment may prove effective. Furthermore, based on findings from studies on the optimization of taVNS and slow breathing, this article provides guidance on how to combine taVNS with slow breathing.

Materials and methods:
A nonsystematic review.

Both taVNS and slow breathing are considered promising add-on therapeutic approaches for anxiety and depressive disorders, chronic pain, cardiovascular diseases, and insomnia. Therefore, taVNS combined with slow breathing may produce additive or even synergistic beneficial effects in these conditions. Studies on respiratory-gated taVNS during spontaneous breathing suggest that taVNS should be delivered during expiration. Therefore, this article proposes to use taVNS as a breathing pacer to indicate when and for how long to exhale during slow breathing exercises.

Combining taVNS with slow breathing seems to be a promising hybrid neurostimulation and behavioral intervention.

Keywords: Paced breathing; slow breathing; transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation; vagus nerve stimulation.

PMID: 34160865 DOI: 10.1111/ner.13458