Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have shown a direct link between vagus nerve stimulation and its connection to the learning centers of the brain. The discovery could lead to treatments that would improve cognitive retention in both healthy and injured nervous systems.
The study was published last week in the journal neuron.
Kristin Vale, PhD, senior author of the paper, said, “We concluded that there is a direct link between the vagus nerve, the cholinergic system that controls some aspects of brain function, and motor cortex neurons that are essential in learning new skills.” ” Vice President of Research in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “This could offer hope to patients with a variety of motor and cognitive impairments, and may someday help healthy individuals learn new skills faster.”
Researchers taught healthy mice a task that is usually difficult to see if it could help improve learning. They found that stimulating the vagus nerve during the procedure helped them learn the task much faster and achieve higher performance levels. This showed that vagus nerve stimulation could enhance learning in a healthy nervous system.
The vagus nerve is important because it controls internal organ functions such as digestion, heart rate, and respiration. It also helps in controlling reflex actions like coughing, swallowing and sneezing.
The study also revealed a direct link between the vagus nerve and the cholinergic system, which is essential for learning and attention. Each time the vagus nerve was stimulated, the researchers could observe the neurons that control active learning within the cholinergic system. Damage to this system has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other motor and cognitive conditions. Now that this connection has been established in healthy nervous systems, Vale said it could lead to better treatment options for people whose systems have been damaged.
“The idea of being able to move the brain into a state where it is able to learn new things is important for any disorder with motor or cognitive impairment,” she said. “Our hope is that vagus nerve stimulation can be combined with ongoing rehabilitation in disorders for patients who are recovering from stroke, traumatic brain injury, PTSD or many other conditions.”
In addition to the study, Vale and his team have applied for a grant that will allow them to use a non-invasive device to stimulate the vagus nerve to treat patients with multiple sclerosis who developed a lack of movement. is of. She’s also hoping that the device could eventually help healthy people learn new skills faster.
“I think there’s a huge untapped potential for using vagus nerve stimulation to help the brain heal itself,” she said. “By continuing to investigate this, we can ultimately optimize patient recovery and open new doors for learning.”
material provided by University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Original written by Laura Kelly. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.