Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) synchronized BOLD fMRI suggests that VNS in depressed adults has frequency/dose dependent effects

Mikhail Lomarev, Stewart Denslow, Ziad Nahas, Jeong Ho Chae, Mark S. George, Daryl E. Bohning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

137 Scopus citations


Stimulation of the vagus nerve in the neck can reduce seizures in epilepsy patients, and may be helpful in treating depression. PET studies have shown that vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) in epilepsy patients causes acute dose (intensity) dependent changes in regional cerebral blood flow. We sought to use the newly developed VNS synchronized fMRI technique to examine whether VNS BOLD signal changes depend on the frequency of stimulation. Six adults with recurrent depression were scanned inside a 1.5 T MR scanner. Data were acquired at rest, with the VNS device on for 7 s, and also, for comparison, while the patient listened to a tone for 7 s. In two separate back-to-back sessions, the VNS stimulation frequency was set to either 5 or 20 Hz. Data were transformed into Talairach space and then compared by condition. Compared to 5 Hz, 20 Hz VNS produced more acute activity changes from rest in regions similar to our initial VNS synchronized fMRI feasibility study in depression. Brain regions activated by hearing a tone were also greater when VNS was intermittently being applied at 20 Hz than at 5 Hz. In depressed adults, left cervical VNS causes regional brain activity changes that depend on the frequency of stimulation or total dose, or both. In addition to the acute immediate effects of VNS on regional brain activity, this study suggests further that VNS at different frequencies likely has frequency or dose dependent modulatory effects on other brain activities (e.g. hearing a tone).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-227
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funded in part by grants from the Dana Foundation and Cyberonics. The authors acknowledge helpful comments from Burke Barrett of Cyberonics. The authors are also grateful for administrative help with scanner access from Ken Roozen, PhD and Sue Hallchurch of GE.


  • Depression
  • FMRI
  • Vagus nerve stimulation


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