Use of Transcutaneous Auricular Vagus Nerve Stimulation as an Adjuvant Therapy for the Depressive Symptoms of COVID-19: A Literature Review

Author: Zhi-Peng Guo1, Peter Sörös2, Zhu-Qing Zhang1, Ming-Hao Yang1, Dan Liao1, Chun-Hong Liu1,3
1 Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Capital Medical University, Beijing, China.
2 Research Center Neurosensory Science, Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Oldenburg, Germany.
3 Beijing Key Laboratory of Acupuncture Neuromodulation, Beijing Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Beijing, China.
Conference/Journal: Front Psychiatry
Date published: 2021 Dec 15
Other: Volume ID: 12 , Pages: 765106 , Special Notes: doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.765106. , Word Count: 185

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) comprises more than just severe acute respiratory syndrome. It also interacts with the cardiovascular, nervous, renal, and immune systems at multiple levels, increasing morbidity in patients with underlying cardiometabolic conditions and inducing myocardial injury or dysfunction. Transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS), which is derived from auricular acupuncture, has become a popular therapy that is increasingly accessible to the general public in modern China. Here, we begin by outlining the historical background of taVNS, and then describe important links between dysfunction in proinflammatory cytokine release and related multiorgan damage in COVID-19. Furthermore, we emphasize the important relationships between proinflammatory cytokines and depressive symptoms. Finally, we discuss how taVNS improves immune function via the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway and modulates brain circuits via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, making taVNS an important treatment for depressive symptoms on post-COVID-19 sequelae. Our review suggests that the link between anti-inflammatory processes and brain circuits could be a potential target for treating COVID-19-related multiorgan damage, as well as depressive symptoms using taVNS.

Keywords: COVID-19; brain circuits; depression; epidemic; transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation.

PMID: 34975571 PMCID: PMC8714783 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.765106