Vagus Nerve Stimulation and Other Neuromodulation Methods for Treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury

Daniel Neren, Matthew D. Johnson, Wynn Legon, Salam P. Bachour, Geoffrey Ling, Afshin A. Divani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


The objective of this paper is to review the current literature regarding the use of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) in preclinical models of traumatic brain injury (TBI) as well as discuss the potential role of VNS along with alternative neuromodulation approaches in the treatment of human TBI. Data from previous studies have demonstrated VNS-mediated improvement following TBI in animal models. In these cases, VNS was observed to enhance motor and cognitive recovery, attenuate cerebral edema and inflammation, reduce blood brain barrier breakdown, and confer neuroprotective effects. Yet, the underlying mechanisms by which VNS enhances recovery following TBI remain to be fully elucidated. Several hypotheses have been offered including: a noradrenergic mechanism, reduction in post-TBI seizures and hyper-excitability, anti-inflammatory effects, attenuation of blood–brain barrier breakdown, and cerebral edema. We present other potential mechanisms by which VNS acts including enhancement of synaptic plasticity and recruitment of endogenous neural stem cells, stabilization of intracranial pressure, and interaction with the ghrelin system. In addition, alternative methods for the treatment of TBI including deep brain stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation, transcranial direct current stimulation, and focused ultrasound stimulation are discussed. Although the primary source data show that VNS improves TBI outcomes, it remains to be determined if these findings can be translated to clinical settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)308-319
Number of pages12
JournalNeurocritical care
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Deep brain stimulation
  • Neuromodulation
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Ultrasound
  • Vagus nerve stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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