Home Career Better understanding of the vagus nerve’s connection to the brain – ScienceDaily

Better understanding of the vagus nerve’s connection to the brain – ScienceDaily

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Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have shown a direct link between stimulation of the vagus nerve and its connection to the learning centers of the brain. The discovery could lead to treatments that improve cognitive preservation in both healthy and damaged nervous systems.

The study was published last week in the journal Neuron.

“We concluded that there is a direct connection between the vagus nerve, the cholinergic system that regulates certain aspects of brain function, and neurons in the motor cortex that are necessary for learning new skills,” said Christine Uehle, Ph.D., senior author of the paper and vice chair of the department of Neurosurgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “This could give hope to patients with various motor and cognitive impairments and someday help healthy people learn new skills more quickly.”

The researchers taught healthy mice a task that is usually difficult to understand if it could help improve learning. They found that vagus nerve stimulation during the process helped them learn the task much faster and achieve a higher level of performance. This showed that stimulation of the vagus nerve can increase learning in a healthy nervous system.

The vagus nerve is critical because it regulates internal organ functions such as digestion, heart rate, and breathing. It also helps control reflex actions such as coughing, swallowing and sneezing.

The study also showed a direct connection between the vagus nerve and the cholinergic system, which is important for learning and attention. Whenever the vagus nerve was stimulated, the researchers could observe the neurons that control learning activated in the cholinergic system. Damage to this system has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other motor and cognitive disorders. Now that this connection has been established in a healthy nervous system, Welle said, it could lead to better treatment options for those whose systems have been damaged.

“The idea of ​​being able to get the brain into a state where it’s able to learn new things is important for any disorder that has motor or cognitive impairment,” she said. “We hope that vagus nerve stimulation can be combined with ongoing rehabilitation in patients recovering from stroke, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder or a number of other conditions.”

In addition to the research, Welle and her team have applied for a grant that will allow them to use non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation devices to treat patients with multiple sclerosis who have developed motor deficits. She also hopes the device will eventually help healthy people learn new skills more quickly.

“I think there is huge untapped potential for using vagus nerve stimulation to help the brain recover,” she said. “By continuing to investigate this, we can ultimately optimize patient recovery and open up new opportunities for learning.”

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Materials is provided University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Original written by Laura Kelly. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.

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