Peripheral vagal nerve stimulation modulates the nociceptive withdrawal reflex in healthy subjects: A randomized, cross-over, sham-controlled study

Roberto De Icco, Daniele Martinelli, Vito Bitetto, Mauro Fresia, Eric Liebler, Giorgio Sandrini, Cristina Tassorelli

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Introduction The mechanism of action of non-invasive vagal nerve stimulation in the treatment of migraine is elusive. We studied its effect in a human model of pain, the nociceptive withdrawal reflex. Methods We enrolled 10 healthy subjects who underwent active non-invasive vagal nerve stimulation and sham treatment in a randomized, cross-over, sham-controlled study. Non-invasive vagal nerve stimulation was delivered with gammaCore®. The assessment of the nociceptive withdrawal reflex was performed at baseline (T0) and at 5 (T5) and 30 (T30) minutes after stimulation. Results Non-invasive vagal nerve stimulation significantly increased the reflex threshold to single stimulus at both T5 and T30 and the temporal summation threshold at T30. Sham treatment did not modify any parameters. Discussion These findings are consistent with a modulation of central descending pathways for pain control. An altered spinal and supraspinal control of pain has been described in primary headache, so this effect may partially explain the therapeutic effect of non-invasive vagal nerve stimulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333102417742347
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Jan 1 2017



  • Journal Article

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