Rebuilding body–brain interaction from the vagal network in spinal cord injuries

Maria Luisa De Martino, Mina De Bartolo, Erik Leemhuis, Mariella Pazzaglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) exert devastating effects on body awareness, leading to the disruption of the transmission of sensory and motor inputs. Researchers have attempted to improve perceived body awareness post-SCI by intervening at the multisensory level, with the integration of somatic sensory and motor signals. However, the contributions of interoceptive-visceral inputs, particularly the potential interaction of motor and interoceptive signals, remain largely unaddressed. The present perspective aims to shed light on the use of interoceptive signals as a significant resource for patients with SCI to experience a complete sense of body awareness. First, we describe intero-ceptive signals as a significant obstacle preventing such patients from experiencing body awareness. Second, we discuss the multi-level mechanisms associated with the homeostatic stability of the body, which creates a unified, coherent experience of one’s self and one’s body, including real-time updates. Body awareness can be enhanced by targeting the vagus nerve function by, for example, applying transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation. This perspective offers a potentially useful insight for researchers and healthcare professionals, allowing them to be better equipped in SCI therapy. This will lead to improved sensory motor and interoceptive signals, a decreased likelihood of developing deafferentation pain, and the successful implementation of modern robotic technologies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1084
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • Body awareness
  • Interoceptive signals
  • Neuroplasticity
  • Pain
  • Spinal cord injury
  • TaVNS
  • Vagus nerve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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