Targeted Intervention Into the Autonomic Nervous System as a Treatment for Inflammatory Disease

Vagus nerve stimulation has been shown, in both animal studies and some human testing by private industry, to have promise as a therapeutic option for chronic inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and Crohn’s disease. But a new refinement to the technique, innovated by researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology may have successfully overcome an unwanted side effect of the procedure, greatly enhancing its efficacy and therapeutic benefit. The advance involves a new form of electrode that delivers both a stimulating and an inhibiting signal to the autonomic nervous system, thereby amplifying the inflammation-damping effect of the treatment. The findings were published last week in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

More effective modulation of inflammation via the vagus nerve involves stimulating downward, or efferent, nerve activity while simultaneously blocking upward, or afferent activity, according to the researchers. Principal investigator Robert Butera, PhD, explained, “We use an electrode with a kilohertz frequency that blocks unwanted nerve conduction in addition to the electrode that stimulates nerve activity. We’ve arranged the two near each other, so the blocking electrode forces the stimulation from the stimulating electrode to only go in one direction.” Tests of the new electrode in animals demonstrated a marked decrease in inflammation, as measured in blood tests, and the effect can be regulated to individual conditions, the authors state.

Read a news story about the findings here.

The journal abstract may be read here.

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