Clinical Science| Volume 26, ISSUE 3, P620-628, April 2023

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Evaluation of the Modulation Effects Evoked by Different Transcutaneous Auricular Vagus Nerve Stimulation Frequencies Along the Central Vagus Nerve Pathway in Migraine: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study

Published:October 25, 2022DOI:



      Transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS) is a promising treatment option for migraines. This study aims to investigate the modulation effects of different taVNS frequencies along the central vagus nerve pathway in migraineurs.

      Materials and methods

      Twenty-four migraineurs were recruited for a single-blind, crossover magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study. The study consisted of two taVNS MRI scan sessions, in which either 1-Hz or 20-Hz taVNS was applied in a random order. Seed-based static and dynamic functional connectivity (FC) analyses were performed using two key nodes of the vagus nerve pathway, the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) and the locus coeruleus (LC).


      Static FC (sFC) analysis showed that 1) continuous 1-Hz taVNS resulted in an increase of NTS/LC–occipital cortex sFC and a decrease of NTS-thalamus sFC compared with the pre–1-Hz taVNS resting state, 2) continuous 20-Hz taVNS resulted in an increase of the LC–anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) sFC compared with the pre–20-Hz taVNS resting state, 3) 1-Hz taVNS produced a greater LC-precuneus and LC–inferior parietal cortex sFC than 20 Hz, and 4) 20-Hz taVNS increased LC-ACC and LC–super temporal gyrus/insula sFC in comparison with 1 Hz. Dynamic FC (dFC) analysis showed that compared with the pre-taVNS resting state, 1-Hz taVNS decreased NTS–postcentral gyrus dFC (less variability), 20-Hz taVNS decreased dFC of the LC–superior temporal gyrus and the LC–occipital cortex. Finally, a positive correlation was found between the subjects’ number of migraine attacks in the past four weeks and the NTS-thalamus sFC during pre-taVNS resting state.


      1-Hz and 20-Hz taVNS may modulate the sFC and dFC of key nodes in the central vagus nerve pathway differently. Our findings highlight the importance of stimulation parameters (frequencies) in taVNS treatment.


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