Chronic vagus nerve stimulation: A new and promising therapeutic approach for chronic heart failure

Gaetano M. De Ferrari, Harry J G M Crijns, Martin Borggrefe, Goran Milasinovic, Jan Smid, Markus Zabel, Antonello Gavazzi, Antonio Sanzo, Robert Dennert, Juergen Kuschyk, Srdjan Raspopovic, Helmut Klein, Karl Swedberg, Peter J. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Aims In chronic heart failure (CHF), reduced vagal activity correlates with increased mortality and acute decompensation. Experimentally, chronic vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) improved left ventricular (LV) function and survival; clinically, it is used for the treatment of drug-refractory epilepsy. We assessed safety and tolerability of chronic VNS in symptomatic CHF patients, using a novel implantable nerve stimulation system. The secondary goal was to obtain preliminary data on clinical efficacy. Methods and resultsThis multi-centre, open-label phase II, two-staged study (8-patient feasibility phase plus 24-patient safety and tolerability phase) enrolled 32 New York Heart Association (NYHA) class IIIV patients [age 56 ± 11 years, LV ejection fraction (LVEF) 23 ± 8]. Right cervical VNS with CardioFit (BioControl Medical) implantable system started 24 weeks after implant, slowly raising intensity; patients were followed 3 and 6 months thereafter with optional 1-year follow-up. Overall, 26 serious adverse events (SAEs) occurred in 13 of 32 patients (40.6), including three deaths and two clearly device-related AEs (post-operative pulmonary oedema, need of surgical revision). Expected non-serious device-related AEs (cough, dysphonia, and stimulation-related pain) occurred early but were reduced and disappeared after stimulation intensity adjustment. There were significant improvements (P <0.001) in NYHA class quality of life, 6-minute walk test (from 411 ± 76 to 471 ± 111 m), LVEF (from 22 ± 7 to 29 ± 8), and LV systolic volumes (P 0.02). These improvements were maintained at 1 year. ConclusionsThis open-label study shows that chronic VNS in CHF patients with severe systolic dysfunction may be safe and tolerable and may improve quality of life and LV function. A controlled clinical trial appears warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)847-855
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Heart Journal
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Heart failure
  • Non-pharmacologic therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine

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    De Ferrari, G. M., Crijns, H. J. G. M., Borggrefe, M., Milasinovic, G., Smid, J., Zabel, M., Gavazzi, A., Sanzo, A., Dennert, R., Kuschyk, J., Raspopovic, S., Klein, H., Swedberg, K., & Schwartz, P. J. (2011). Chronic vagus nerve stimulation: A new and promising therapeutic approach for chronic heart failure. European Heart Journal, 32(7), 847-855.