Vagus Nerve Stimulation the brain pacemaker: A way to enhance stoke recovery?
Using an animal model it has been shown that pairing vagus nerve stimulation with a physical therapy task accelerates the recovery of motor skills.
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is delivered via a small surgically implanted device that uses electrical impulses of varying intensities and pulse widths to activate the vagus nerve.
Brief bursts of VNS can strengthen the communication pathways by building stronger cell connections in the brain after a stroke.
VNS with rehabilitative training:
Doubles long lasting recovery on a complex task involving forelimb supination
Doubles recovery on a simple motor task that was not paired with VNS
Enhances structural plasticity in motor networks.
During each rehab session whenever a patient performs a particular motor skill correctly, the therapist pushes a button to trigger an optimal pulse width and current intensity of the vagus nerve stimulation.
The theory is that precise stimulation and accurate movements are re-inforced by a brief burst of VNS during a trial and error learning process, and these actions become “hardwired into the bran more quickly.