Vagus nerve stimulation inhibits cortical spreading depression exclusively through central mechanisms

Andreia Morais, Tzu Ting Liu, Tao Qin, Homa Sadhegian, Ilknur Ay, Damla Yagmur, Rosangela Mendes Da Silva, David Chung, Bruce Simon, Rubem Guedes, Shih Pin Chen, Shuu Jiun Wang, Jiin Cherng Yen, Cenk Ayata*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Experimental and clinical data strongly support vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) as a novel treatment in migraine. Vagus nerve stimulation acutely suppresses cortical spreading depression (CSD) susceptibility, an experimental model that has been used to screen for migraine therapies. However, mechanisms underlying VNS efficacy on CSD are unknown. Here, we interrogated the central and peripheral mechanisms using VNS delivered either invasively (iVNS) or noninvasively (nVNS) in male Sprague-Dawley rats. Cortical spreading depression susceptibility was evaluated 40 minutes after the stimulation. iVNS elevated the electrical CSD threshold more than 2-fold and decreased KCl-induced CSD frequency by 22% when delivered to intact vagus nerve. Distal vagotomy did not alter iVNS efficacy (2-fold higher threshold and 19% lower frequency in iVNS vs sham). By contrast, proximal vagotomy completely abolished iVNS effect on CSD. Pharmacological blockade of nucleus tractus solitarius, the main relay for vagal afferents, by lidocaine or glutamate receptor antagonist CNQX also prevented CSD suppression by nVNS. Supporting a role for both norepinephrine and serotonin, CSD suppression by nVNS was inhibited by more than 50% after abrogating norepinephrinergic or serotonergic neurotransmission alone using specific neurotoxins; abrogating both completely blocked the nVNS effect. Our results suggest that VNS inhibits CSD through central afferents relaying in nucleus tractus solitarius and projecting to subcortical neuromodulatory centers providing serotonergic and norepinephrinergic innervation to the cortex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1661-1669
Number of pages9
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2020


  • Migraine
  • Spreading depression
  • Vagus nerve stimulation


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