Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, explored how vagus nerve stimulation regulates our body’s “fight or flight” response. The study is published in the journal Brain Stimulation.
The Significance Of The Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve comprises the main nerves of the parasympathetic nervous system. It controls the body’s involuntary functions related to digestion, heart rate, immune system, response to stress, etc.
The research team invited 24 healthy adults to receive a placebo treatment or non-invasive stimulation of the vagus nerve. The participants entered an fMRI machine and completed a simple task.
They were asked to press two different buttons and react to either an upsetting image with a high-pitched tone or a pleasant image with a soothing tone. The researchers recorded the participants’ reaction time, brain activity, and blood oxygen levels.
The results revealed that the participants who received vagus nerve stimulation responded quickly to neutral and emotionally charged tasks. However, they were also the ones who had strong brain responses to negative/upsetting imagery and diminished responses to pleasant imagery.
The researchers are enthusiastic that the study can help better understand the association between vagus nerve stimulation, norepinephrine signaling, and stress and anxiety disorders.
The findings can be used to formulate effective evidence-based interventions to treat disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) wherein dysfunction in norepinephrine signaling is a major causal factor.
One of the lead researchers, Dr. Imanuel Lerman, elaborated: “The study’s findings represent a first step toward understanding how non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation might be efficiently used as a tool to treat patients with PTSD, generalized anxiety, and other disorders that involve a heightened response to perceived threats.”
To Know More You May Refer To
Lerman, I., Klaming, R., Spadoni, A., Baker, D. G., & Simmons, A. N. (2022). Non-invasive cervical vagus nerve stimulation effects on reaction time and valence image anticipation response. Brain stimulation, 15(4), 946–956. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brs.2022.06.006