Vagus nerve stimulation: A new tool for brain research and therapy

Mark S. George, Harold A. Sackeim, A. John Rush, Lauren B. Marangell, Ziad Nahas, Mustafa M. Husain, Sarah Lisanby, Tal Burt, Juliet Goldman, James C. Ballenger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

367 Scopus citations


Biological psychiatry has a long history of using somatic therapies to treat neuropsychiatric illnesses and to understand brain function. These methods have included neurosurgery, electroconvulsive therapy, and, most recently, transcranial magnetic stimulation. Fourteen years ago researchers discovered that intermittent electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve produces inhibition of neural processes, which can alter brain electrical activity and terminate seizures in dogs. Since then, approximately 6000 people worldwide have received vagus nerve stimulation for treatment- resistant epilepsy. We review the neurobiology and anatomy of the vagus nerve and provide an overview of the vagus nerve stimulation technique. We also describe the safety and potential utility of vagus nerve stimulation as a neuroscience research tool and as a putative treatment for psychiatric conditions. Vagus nerve stimulation appears to be a promising new somatic intervention that may improve our understanding of brain function and has promise in the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders. (C) 2000 Society of Biological Psychiatry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-295
Number of pages9
JournalBiological psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Several authors hold research contracts (MSG, HAS, AJR, LBM) or grants (MSG, AJR) from Cyberonics, the manufacturer of the NCP System, which delivers VNS. No author has a direct financial interest in Cyberonics (stocks, consulting boards, etc.), and there was no compensation for writing this article. NCP and VNS are trademarks of Cyberonics. Dr. George thanks Dr. Paul MacLean for helpful discussions about the relationship of the autonomic nervous system and the limbic system, with particular attention to the role of the vagus nerve and the nucleus solitary tract. The authors thank Burke Barrett and Dr. William Duffell of Cyberonics for comments on this article.


  • Antidepressant
  • Brain stimulation
  • Depression
  • Locus ceruleus
  • Vagus nerve


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