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Journal Article

Brain signaling dynamics after vagus nerve stimulation


Hartig,  R
Department Physiology of Cognitive Processes, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Teckentrup, V., Krylova, M., Jamalabadi, H., Neubert, S., Neuser, M., Hartig, R., et al. (2021). Brain signaling dynamics after vagus nerve stimulation. NeuroImage, 245: 118679. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.118679.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-C81B-9
The vagus nerve projects to a well-defined neural circuit via the nucleus tractus solitarii (NTS) and its stimulation elicits a wide range of metabolic, neuromodulatory, and behavioral effects. Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) has been established as a promising technique to non-invasively alter brain function. However, the precise dynamics elicited by tVNS in humans are still largely unknown. Here, we performed fMRI with concurrent right-sided tVNS (vs. sham) following a randomized cross-over design (N = 40). First, to unravel the temporal profile of tVNS-induced changes in the NTS, we compared fMRI time series to canonical profiles for stimulation ON and OFF cycles. Model comparisons indicated that NTS time series were best fit by block-wise shifts in signal amplitude with stimulation ON and OFF estimates being highly correlated. Therefore, we compared stimulation (ON + OFF) versus baseline phases and found that tVNS increased fMRI BOLD activation in the NTS, but this effect was dependent on sufficient temporal signal-to-noise ratio (tSNR) in the mask. Second, to identify the spatiotemporal evolution of tVNS-induced changes in the brain, we examined lagged co-activation patterns and phase coherence. In contrast to our hypothesis, tVNS did not alter dynamic functional connectivity after correction for multiple comparisons. Third, to establish a positive control for future research, we measured changes in gastric myoelectrical frequency via an electrogastrogram. Again, in contrast to our hypothesis, tVNS induced no changes in gastric frequency. Collectively, our study provides evidence that tVNS can perturb brain signaling in the NTS, but these effects are dependent on tSNR and require precise localization. In light of an absence of acute tVNS-induced effects on dynamic functional connectivity and gastric motility, we discuss which steps are necessary to advance future research on afferent and efferent effects of tVNS.