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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2014 Feb 1;116(3):337-44. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00423.2013. Epub 2013 Jun 27.

Electrical stimulation of the hypoglossal nerve: a potential therapy.

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  • 1Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.


Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by recurrent episodes of pharyngeal collapse, which result from a decrease in pharyngeal dilator muscle tone. The genioglossus is a major pharyngeal dilator that maintains airway patency during sleep. Early studies in animal and humans have demonstrated that electrical stimulation of this muscle reduces pharyngeal collapsibility, increases airflow, and mitigates obstructive sleep apnea. These findings impelled the development of fully implantable hypoglossal nerve stimulating systems (HGNS), for which feasibility trial results are now available. These pilot studies have confirmed that hypoglossal nerve stimulation can prevent pharyngeal collapse without arousing patients from sleep. Potentially, a substantial segment of the patient population with obstructive sleep apnea can be treated with this novel approach. Furthermore, the feasibility trial findings suggest that the therapeutic potential of HGNS can be optimized by selecting patients judiciously, titrating the stimulus intensity optimally, and characterizing the underlying function and anatomy of the pharynx. These strategies are currently being examined in ongoing pivotal trials of HGNS.


hypoglossal nerve stimulating systems; hypopnea; obstructive sleep apnea; pharyngeal collapse

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