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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2006 Aug;318(2):890-8. Epub 2006 May 11.

Effect of vagus nerve stimulation on serotonergic and noradrenergic transmission.

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Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, 1033 Pine Ave. West, Montréal, Québec, Canada H3A 1A1.


Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is an antiepileptic treatment, which has recently shown promise as an antidepressant. Yet, its antidepressant mechanisms of action are unknown. Serotonergic [5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT, serotonin)] and noradrenergic [norepinephrine (NE)] systems are involved in the pathophysiology of depression and in the mechanisms of action of antidepressants. The present study analyzes 5-HT and NE neuronal firing rates in their brainstem nuclei: the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) and locus coeruleus (LC), respectively. The basal firing rates in the DRN and LC were significantly increased after long-term treatments with VNS. After short-term VNS treatments, firing rates were significantly higher for LC (at 1 h and 3 days). As changes in their firing rate may have been due to altered autoreceptor sensitivities, the responses of autoreceptors to the acute administration of their respective agonists were assessed. However, no significant difference was seen in the DRN. No significant differences in dose response curves for 5-HT(1A) somatodendritic and alpha 2-adrenergic autoreceptors were noticed between long-term VNS and controls. VNS appears to have a novel mechanism of antidepressant action, enabling its effectiveness in treatment-resistant depression. LC firing rates significantly increase earlier than the DRN basal firing. As the LC has an excitatory influence on DRN, it is possible that the increased DRN firing rate is secondary to an initial increased LC firing rate from VNS.

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