Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus explored the link between vagus nerve stimulation and learning new skills. The study is published in the journal Neuron.
Researchers surveyed laboratory mice and made them perform certain tasks that are otherwise difficult for rodents to perform. They also stimulated the mice’s vagus nerve during the experiment to see whether this stimulation helped the mice learn faster and achieve a higher performance level.
The results revealed a direct link between the vagus nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system and the cholinergic system (that regulates learning and attention).
The vagus nerve stimulation triggers the cholinergic system in a healthy nervous system and enhances the learning centers of the brain. This helps us to learn new skills better.
The findings from the study can be used to formulate effective interventions for neurodevelopmental disorders caused by damaged vagus nerves and the cholinergic system.
In fact, these therapeutic interventions can be used to support brain healing in disorders with motor or cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, brain injury, etc.
One of the lead researchers, Dr. Cristin Welle, elaborated: “Our hope is that vagus nerve stimulation can be paired with ongoing rehabilitation in disorders for patients who are recovering from a stroke, traumatic brain injury, PTSD or a number of other conditions.”
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Bowles, S., Hickman, J., Peng, X., Williamson, W. R., Huang, R., Washington, K., Donegan, D., & Welle, C. G. (2022). Vagus nerve stimulation drives selective circuit modulation through cholinergic reinforcement. Neuron, S0896-6273(22)00555-4. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2022.06.017