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Neurology. 2000 Oct 24;55(8):1167-71.

Left vagus nerve stimulation suppresses experimentally induced pain.

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Neurologische Klinik, Friedrich-Alexander-Universit├Ąt Erlangen, Germany.



To test whether electric stimulation of the vagus nerve has an antinociceptive effect in humans.


In a variety of animal studies, vagus nerve stimulation was shown to inhibit nociceptive behavior as well as electric responses of spinal nociceptive neurons. In humans, chronic left vagus nerve stimulation is used to treat pharmacologically refractory epilepsy.


The authors investigated experimental pain in 10 patients with seizures before and twice after implantation of a vagus nerve stimulator by using different controlled stimuli, including noxious heat, tonic pressure, and short impact. Pain was quantified on a visual analogue scale. Twelve nonepileptic age- and gender-matched individuals served as control subjects.


Vagus nerve stimulation reduced increasing pain associated with trains of five consecutive stimuli at 1.5-second intervals ("wind-up"; p < 0.001). In a similar manner, pain on tonic pressure was reduced by vagus nerve stimulation (p < 0.03). Pain associated with single-impact stimuli as well as heat pain thresholds were unaltered under vagus nerve stimulation. Thus, vagus nerve stimulation led to pain relief predominantly in experimental procedures in which pain magnitude was amplified by central processing. The antinociceptive effect was independent of the acute on-off cycles of vagus nerve stimulation.


Vagus nerve stimulation is effective in reducing pain in humans. In humans, the antinociceptive effect might rely on central inhibition rather than alterations of peripheral nociceptive mechanisms. These results indicate a promising, potential future role of vagus nerve stimulation in pain treatment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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