Vagus Nerve Stimulation and Neurotrophins: a biological psychiatric perspective

Kristen Sparrow • April 15, 2020

Vagus Nerve Stimulation and Neurotrophins: a biological psychiatric perspective

High Tech Woman
Data Makes the Difference

Ok.  A whole new area of brain chemistry I wasn’t aware of.  I’m not even sure where Neurotrophins are found.  Will report once I know.  I’m tempted to buy this article, but don’t want to get carried away.

Review article

Vagus Nerve Stimulation and Neurotrophins: a biological psychiatric perspective

National Research Council (CNR), Institute of Biochemistry & Cell Biology (IBBC) Rome, Italy
Department of Biotechnological and Applied Clinical Sciences, University of L’Aquila, L’Aquila, Italy
Psychiatry Unit San Salvatore Hospital, L’Aquila, Italy
Department of Sense Organs, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy

Received 14 November 2019, Revised 31 March 2020, Accepted 31 March 2020, Available online 9 April 2020.


Neurotrophins are currently investigated as risk factors and therapeutic marked for psychiatric disorders.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) – which is approved as an adjunctive treatment in pharmacological resistant epilepsy and depression – up-regulates neurotrophins in brain and activates plasticity and neurogenesis.

Vagus nerve and NGF/BDNF are part of an integrated body system, which works to alert, cope and protect, representing an intriguing target to understand pathophysiology, and risk factors for psychiatric disturbances.

Brain and circulating NGF and BDNF changes following vagus nerve activation might help to develop personalized and/or selective VNS-based therapeutic approaches to psychiatric disturbances.


Since 2004, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) has been used in treatment-resistant or treatment-intolerant depressive episodes. Today, VNS is suggested as possible therapy for a larger spectrum of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorders, and panic disorders. Despite a large body of literature supports the application of VNS in patients’ treatment, the exact mechanism of action of VNS remains not fully understood. In the present study, the major knowledges on the brain areas and neuronal pathways regulating neuroimmune and autonomic response subserving VNS effects are reviewed. Furthermore, the involvement of the neurotrophins (NTs) Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) in vagus nerve (VN) physiology and stimulation is revised. The data on brain NGF/BDNF synthesis and in turn on the activity-dependent plasticity, connectivity rearrangement and neurogenesis, are presented and discussed as potential biomarkers for optimizing stimulatory parameters for VNS. A vagus nerve-neurotrophin interaction model in the brain is finally proposed as a working hypothesis for future studies addressed to understand pathophysiology of psychiatric disturbance.


vagus nerve
psychiatric disorders
brain plasticity