The Future Is Noninvasive: A Brief Review of the Evolution and Clinical Utility of Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Author: Bashar W Badran1, Christopher W Austelle1
1 Department of Psychiatry, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston.
Conference/Journal: Focus (Am Psychiatr Publ)
Date published: 2022 Jan 1
Other: Volume ID: 20 , Issue ID: 1 , Pages: 3-7 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1176/appi.focus.20210023. , Word Count: 227

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a form of neuromodulation that stimulates the vagus nerve. VNS had been suggested as an intervention in the late 1800s and was rediscovered in the late 1980s as a promising treatment for refractory epilepsy. Since then, VNS has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of epilepsy, morbid obesity, and treatment-resistant depression. Unfortunately, VNS is underutilized, as it is costly to implant and often only suggested when all other treatment options have been exhausted. Discovery of a noninvasive method of VNS known as transcutaneous auricular VNS (taVNS), which activates the vagus through stimulation of the auricular branch of the vagus nerve, has reignited excitement around VNS. taVNS has immense potential as a safe, at-home, wearable treatment for various neuropsychiatric disorders. Major strides are being made in both invasive and noninvasive VNS that aim to make this technology more accessible to patients who would find benefit, including the ongoing RECOVER trial, a randomized controlled trial in up to 1,000 individuals to further evaluate the efficacy of VNS for treatment-resistant depression. In this brief review, we first discuss the early history of VNS; then its clinical utility in FDA-approved indications; and, finally, noninvasive VNS.

Keywords: Brain stimulation; Depression; Noninvasive VNS; Transcutaneous auricular VNS (taVNS); Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS); taVNS.

PMID: 35746934 PMCID: PMC9063597 (available on 2023-01-01) DOI: 10.1176/appi.focus.20210023