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Baillieres Clin Neurol. 1996 Dec;5(4):841-8.

Modern management of epilepsy: Vagus nerve stimulation.

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Department of Clinical Neuroscience, University of Götborg, Sahlgrenska Hospital, Sweden.


Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) was first tried as a treatment for seizure patients in 1988. The idea to stimulate the vagus nerve and disrupt or prevent seizures was proposed by Jacob Zabarra. He observed a consistent finding among several animal studies which indicated that stimulation of the vagus nerve could alter the brain wave patterns of the animals under study. His hypothesis formed the basis for the development of the vagus nerve stimulator, an implantable device similar to a pacemaker, which is implanted in the left chest and attached to the left vagus nerve via a stimulating lead. Once implanted, the stimulator is programmed by a physician to deliver regular stimulation 24 hours a day regardless of seizure activity. Patients can also activate extra 'on-demand' stimulation with a handheld magnet. Clinical studies have demonstrated VNS therapy to be a safe and effective mode of treatment when added to the existing regimen of severe, refractory patients with epilepsy. Efficacy ranges from seizure free to no response with the majority of patients (> 50%) reporting at least a 50% improvement in number of seizures after 1.5 years of treatment. The side-effect profile is unique and mostly includes stimulation-related sensations in the neck and throat. The mechanism of action for VNS is not clearly understood although two theories have emerged. First, the direct connection theory hypothesizes that the anticonvulsant action of VNS is caused by a threshold raising effect of the connections to the nucleus of the solitary tract and on to other structures. The second is the concept that chronic stimulation of the vagus nerve increases the amount of inhibitory neurotransmitters and decreases the amount of excitatory neurotransmitters. Additional research into the optimal use of VNS is ongoing. Animal and clinical research have produced some interesting new data suggesting there are numerous ways to improve the clinical performance of vagus nerve stimulation as a treatment for refractory patients.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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